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Chapter 1

2006

She only barely managed to hit the ball, almost collapsing to the hard gym floor, but hit it she did. Her forearms tingled with a short stab of pain as the ball bounced up again until it was just over the top of the net, and Evan smashed it onto the other side, making it hit the ground so fast and so hard that neither Murdoch nor Anna stood a chance of catching it.

            “That’s it!” Oliver gasped as Alex got to her feet, bumping her hip against Evan’s in triumph. It looked stupid, but she wouldn’t miss their victory dance for the world. “I’m done for today.”

            Anna stretched luxuriously, eyeing Oliver without really bothering to hide it. These two had been dancing around each other for the better part of two months. It was high time they stopped using their weekly volleyball matches as an excuse to hang out together. “Rematch the day after tomorrow?” Anna asked, adjusting her ponytail.

            “Nope,” Evan grinned. “We’re going back home for our honeymoon.”

            “Honeymoon?” Oliver asked incredulously. “You’ve been married for three years now at least!”

            “High time, Captain, wouldn’t you say?”

            Oliver huffed and moved over to the side of the gym where he reached for his water bottle. It had been three years to the day since they went to the court house in Colorado Springs to get married.

            “Where are you going?” Anna dropped on the floor and started stretching. Alex caught Oliver sneak a glance at her. These two really needed to get a room.

            “All over the place,” Alex rubbed her nose. They’d never gotten around to going on that trip to Germany. Evan and she had said they’d go, but his fighter crash and the injuries that accompanied it had prevented them first and then they’d just never made the time. But there never really had been time. “And we’ll only have two weeks.” Eighteen days travelling time between Earth and Pegasus really wasn’t a whole lot of time. It was barely worth it, but every member of the expedition had two weeks of mandatory leave, and they might just as well spend that time at home. There’d be plenty of time to catch up with paperwork. And they could call themselves lucky that Evan was second-in-command to Colonel Sheppard and couldn’t be away for too long, or they’d have to take the Daedalus to get to Earth as well.

            “Last time I went home I thought I’d go mad on that ship,” Anna said. “I only wish they’d get that Gate Bridge ready.” It was one of the highest priorities of the expedition to find enough Stargates to build the bridge which McKay and Carter had come up with in order to speed up travel time between Pegasus and the Milky Way.

            “Go out there and find another couple of unused Spacegates while we’re gone and you’ll get your wish,” Evan said, putting his radio back in his ear and freezing in place. Alex’s heart sank. He was being summoned. She could only hope it wasn’t anything serious.

            “Evan?”

            He shook his head and shrugged. “Gotta go. It’ll be fine!” He kissed her cheek, grinned at the three of them, waved a goodbye and started running down the corridor. Where he was going or when he’d be back, he didn’t even say.

            Alex bit her lip, hating herself for feeling jealous of whoever needed him now. It was their anniversary. They were supposed to be heading back to Earth. But of course this was important and she shouldn’t be jealous. She’d known what she signed up for the moment she started dating him eleven years ago. No, she’d known that even before then.

            “Hey, want to grab some lunch?” Anna asked, but Alex shook her head.

            “Not done packing. You two go ahead.” She threw her friend a meaningful look, then slipped out into the corridor to return to hers and Evans quarters. She needed a shower and pack the last few items, hoping that they’d get to go home that day.

            There was no telling what had happened or what he was needed for, and she wasn’t part of his team anymore, so there really was no way for her to find out right now. She’d been reassigned to Oliver’s team a few weeks after her arrival in Pegasus by Colonel Sheppard, and it made sense really. Being on the same team as her husband all the time would only lead to complications in the long run. She was glad Weir had taken her on at all.

            She’d only gone a few steps however, before Anna caught up with her. Oliver was already heading in the other direction. “What’s wrong with you?” Alex asked, switching to German, just in case. “You know he’s crazy about you, why are you following me?”

            “I’ll catch up with him eventually.” They’d been colleagues at the university in Germany where Alex had taken a temporary job after meeting Evan. “Listen, can you take some letters for my family?”

            Raising an eyebrow, Alex looked at her friend. “Sure. Why can’t you send them via Daedalus or send an e-mail like the rest of us?”

            Anna snorted. “I don’t want the Air Force reading all my private mail, you know?”

            “Yes, I do. We’ll be in Trier for a couple of days, so I can post them from there.”

            “Great! And bring me some chocolate? I hate the stuff they have here.”

            “You still consume massive amounts, though.”

            “Stop judging me! I know you had Doctor Zelenka smuggle in jellybeans!”

            Alex laughed and shook her head. “I’m not judging. Just drop the letters off at our quarters, and I’ll bring as much chocolate as I can carry.”

 

Two days. That’s by how much they were delayed. A group of geologists had managed to get themselves trapped in a mud-slide on the mainland and with the Daedalus on its way to Atlantis , and no beaming technology available to them, they had to organize a rescue mission. But the geologists were back on Atlantis now, and with no new catastrophe looming over their heads this very moment, they were good to go.

            Alex was only carrying a duffle bag, which held some personal items and a change of clothes for the both of them for when they left Cheyenne Mountain to get to the airport. There’d be no time to go home now. They’d kept the house, but it stood empty and if Ellen and his parents hadn’t used it as an occasional vacation home, it would’ve remained that way.

            Before stepping through the Gate, he took the bag off her and he was surprised at how light it was. Well, they couldn’t exactly bring souvenirs. Her steps on the way from their quarters to the Gate Room had become exceedingly lighter. A blind man could’ve seen how excited she was to return home, though she’d never admit how much she missed it. Not even to him. He knew it anyway.

            The Gate Room at the SGC looked exactly like it had last time. What had he expected? It’d only been about a year. What should have changed? Harriman was there looking down at them just like he always had, the soldiers’ faces guarding the Gate had remained the same. The one thing that had changed was the uniform they were wearing. The dark grey concrete walls were as indestructible and as dull as ever. Really, nothing had changed here. Except for the man in charge.

            General Landry was waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp. Evan had seen him in one of the transmissions exchanged between Atlantis and Earth, but they’d never met in person.

            “Major, Doctor, welcome home.” He nodded at them as the Gate shut down behind them. The usual data transmission must be completed already.

            “Sir, I wasn’t expecting you to wait for us,” Evan said, shaking the General’s hand.

            “Nah, I wasn’t going to, but you dialled in just after SG-3 left, so I thought I might just as well wait. Good to see you two.”

            “Thanks, General,” Alex said, sounding relieved, “May I ask-“

            “The new shipment of archaeological equipment will travel back with you on the Daedalus, yes. Doctor Jackson added a few items.” Landry shook his head with a grin. “But there’ll be time for that when you’re back from your trip.”

            Evan raised his brows. “Sir? Our orders were to be back here in two weeks and then go back to Atlantis on the Daedalus straight away.”

            “And you will, just that the Daedalus appears to have run into some problems on their way to Atlantis and it looks she’ll need to undergo some repairs before she can ship out again.”

            “How long?” That wasn’t exactly good news, yes, they desperately needed a break from daily routine on Atlantis, but he was second-in-command. He couldn’t be gone indefinitely.

            “Just about a week. So, take a few extra days and return here on the eighth.”

 

Alex swallowed her anger. It wouldn’t be fair. It wasn’t Landry’s fault, and it wasn’t Evan’s fault and it wasn’t the fault of the geologists who got themselves trapped. But that slow, burning sensation in the pit of her stomach remained. They’d lost two days and now they had to hurry to catch their plane from Denver to San Francisco, their first stop. Despite the Daedalus’ delay, they still needed to be back in Colorado Springs and resume work, after having lost two days. She took a deep breath. She wasn’t being fair, she told herself. She was being a brat. A thirty-five year old brat.

            She didn’t turn the rental car towards the highway. She barely paid attention to the familiar houses or the streets as she drove. Getting back behind the steering wheel should have felt stranger after about a year, but it was alright. The first few kilometres she’d had to pay extra attention, but she’d learned to appreciate automatic cars long ago.

            Evan didn’t say a thing as they drove past their house. They wouldn’t have the time to stop there. He just reached over and touched her knee, his thumb gently tracing the side of her leg. “Slow down, hm?”

            Letting out a long-held breath, she eased up on the gas. He was right. No use getting a ticket or dying just because she couldn’t wait to go to the graveyard. Her heart was so heavy and beating so fast at the same time, she could barely breathe when she finally stopped the car on that long, unpaved road lined by ancient trees. All she felt was his hand on her skin. His warmth.

            Giving his hand a quick squeeze, she opened the car door, stepped out and stared out over the sea of headstones, right at the one they’d come here to see. Evan was by her side, his hand in hers. Right now she needed his encouragement more than ever. Neither of them had been here in twelve whole months, and Alex couldn’t shake that feeling of guilt. Nora couldn’t feel lonely or abandoned. Not anymore. Not for a long time.

            Three years ago they’d been parents. For a while. After losing, then finding their daughter. For a few months they’d had a daughter. She still couldn’t believe that it had been that long She still felt that numbness occasionally, but most days she could live as though it had never happened, and if that wasn’t something to feel guilty about, then what was? Pulling at Evan’s hand, she started towards the headstone. It was eight rows away from them, dark grey in the bright July sun. Eight rows of carefully counted steps.

            It was as though nothing had changed. The dark stone, the silver star, the simple writing without the dates. And why wasn’t she sad now? Why wasn’t she bursting into tears? All of a sudden, this place felt empty, even though the flowers lying in front of the head stone showed her that somebody had been here recently, though she couldn’t say who.

            Nobody on her archaeological team on Atlantis knew about Nora, or if they did, they never talked about it. Not even Anna. There were quite a few people in Atlantis, who’d been involved in the search for her. Alex hadn’t counted them, and really, it was only Doctor Beckett who talked of her occasionally. Just a brief mention, really. No personal questions and she was grateful for it.

            “It’s so weird, being here,” Evan said, letting go of her hand and kneeling in front of the headstone. He cleared his throat and brushed over the top of it, as though he had to remove the dust of over a year. This grave had seen four whole seasons without them ever coming here. “It almost-“ he sighed and shook his head. Did he feel as detached as she did? Like that stone, that grave should be a slap in the face, when it just felt alien?

            “I just don’t feel her here anymore,” Alex said and Evan nodded thoughtfully.

He reached into his pocket, then started pulling out the grass right underneath the headstone and started digging with his fingers until a small patch of earth was laid bare. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

            “Don’t tell anyone what?”

            Shaking his head, he sprinkled something over the soil and covered it again with a thin layer.

“What is that?”

            “A plant that apparently looks like a daisy and doesn’t need a whole lot of tending to.”

            Alex stared at him, at the rule-abiding Major who’d always been commended by his superior for following orders to the letter. The one with the impeccable record. “Did you just plant an alien flower on our daughter’s grave?” She laughed despite herself.

            With a shrug, Evan got up again and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. The dirt-stained fingers resting on her arm. “Nobody will know, but there’ll be something from us here when we have to leave again. I snuck them out of the botany lab before we left.”

            “You know you might be damning the whole eco system right now?”

            Evan shrugged and grinned softly. “Not with just those few seeds.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

2006

Fog was starting to creep into the bay. Alex knew from the few times she’d been here, that it would take only about half an hour for her to be unable to see the hills in the distance.

            When they first met, Evan had told her that he was born in San Francisco. That he’d grown up there. She now knew that’d been a bit of a stretch. It took them over one and a half hours to get from the airport to where Evan’s parents and sister lived, but then again, Alex wouldn’t have known where the small town he’d actually grown up in was. She doubted the people in the nearby city even knew it existed, but that was probably why she liked it here. There weren’t a whole lot of tourists and the place was wonderfully quiet.  

            Evan’s father was driving, keeping quiet as usual. He only spoke if and when he found something worthwhile to say. Evan’s mother on the other hand kept chatting on continually. About neighbours. About her retirement party. About colleagues who kept bothering her about her students. And Monsieur. The dog was a constant topic and Alex liked listening to her. Her voice was calming as they drove through the slowly thickening fog.

            “How is he anyway?” Evan asked, interrupting his mother during a story about how Monsieur had tried catching a crab and gotten his nose pinched.

            “He’s getting old,” David said, taking Alex by surprise. “Doesn’t chase squirrels anymore.”

            “David…” Molly muttered. If David spoke up to tell them, then it was bound to be serious.

            “How old is he?” Alex asked. She knew Monsieur wasn’t a puppy anymore, but it had just never occurred to her that Monsieur was that old.

            Evan swallowed hard. “Seventeen… so…” He kept looking out of the window, at the hills and the scenery gliding by. He must’ve believed not so see Monsieur again, but that was almost certain now. When they left to go back to Atlantis, he wouldn’t see his dog again. At least this way he’d get the chance to say a proper goodbye.

            When David parked the car in front of the big house with the strange-looking sculptures in front, Alex couldn’t help but admire his patience. She loved Evan, but she wasn’t sure how much metal sculptures made by students she could’ve stood in her front yard.

            “So,” Molly said, getting out of the car and helping Alex lift the duffle bag out of the trunk. She’d have to do a quick check of what they’d actually packed in the five minutes they’d been inside their house. Making time for that had been next to insane and they’d very nearly missed their flight, but going to the graveyard had been more important.

            “So? It’s really not that heavy, it’s fine.”

            Molly shook her head, took the bag from her and shoved it into David’s chest. “So, what’s new?”

            Oh, Evan was the commander of an Ancient war ship for a whole day before it was blown to bits. We didn’t have time to repair it, so we had to send it into battle against an alien race hell-bent on sucking the life out of all of us. A couple of months before that he was taken prisoner, but we thought he was dead. I love your hydrangeas.  She bit her lip and shrugged. “Not much.”

            “Mom, you know we can’t talk about work.”

            “Was I asking about work?”

            Evan scoffed, took the duffle from his father and started towards the front door.

            “You’re sure you’ll only be staying for a few days? It’s such a short time.”

            Alex nodded. “I know… I’m sorry, but we also have to go to my mom’s place.” She left out the mention of their short trip. It wouldn’t be worth it rubbing it into her face. “And no, nothing’s new.” What was she supposed to say? Whatever it was, it would most likely require her to get security clearance. She and Evan spent most of their days working anyway, and work wasn’t anything they could talk about.

Monsieur was lying on the couch when they came through the door. He wasn’t even waiting for them. He wagged his tail slowly, when Evan entered the living room and only Evan saying his name could get him on his feet. It broke his heart to watch the greying dog waddle towards him and throw himself at his feet.

            The fur was as thick as ever, but underneath Monsieur was thinner than Evan remembered him. He sat down on the floor, dragging the dog into his lap and slowly but surely Monsieur seemed to realize what was happening. He started breathing excitedly, especially when Alex sat down next to them. The dark brown eyes were almost completely hidden by a bluish-grey veil.

            “He’s gone deaf,” Molly said behind them. The pang Evan felt wasn’t unexpected, but it still made him swallow drily.

            “Sorry I left you, buddy,” he muttered, burying his nose in the brown fur, relishing the familiar scent. Mothballs. That’s what Monsieur smelled like, but he didn’t say it out loud. Both Molly and Alex would chide him for it. He’d tell Monsieur when they were alone. He couldn’t believe how quickly Monsieur had aged in such a short time. What could he have done, though?

            “He missed you a lot,” Molly added, watching Alex and Evan greeting the dog with due enthusiasm. The look in her eyes made his stomach tighten. It wasn’t the first time that day he imagined coming home to visit Nora and Alex, instead of coming home with Alex to visit a grave. Other officers had family back home, wives, husbands, kids. What it must be like for them to be separated from their loved ones for as long as they were, was almost unbelievable. He knew he should call himself lucky that he had Alex with him and got to sleep next to her almost every night.

            “I missed him too.”

            “Ellen and Roger are coming over with the kids later. Is that okay?”

            Alex stiffened, but she nodded. She avoided children and he was almost sure he’d do the same if his nephews hadn’t been in the picture. Not that Paul and Simon could possibly remember him too well. They were what, four and six? God, they should’ve thought of buying them gifts. That’s what you did as an uncle: you sent gifts or brought them.

            “Sure,” Alex said and Evan was sure he was the only one who heard that she’d accepted her fate rather than embraced it. She kissed Monsieur’s nose and stood up to look at the pictures on the mantlepiece in the living room. She’d only been here maybe twice, but he was glad to have her here. To see her in the place where he’d grown up. She fit better in here than his high-school girlfriend, who must’ve been here in this very spot a thousand times. And the picture of her and Evan on the wall also looked more natural there than the picture of him with his prom date, which it had replaced.

            “You had it printed out,” Alex said with a smile.

            Evan clapped Monsieur’s side and came to his feet to stand beside her. The picture had been taken by Anna on one of their days off. Both Alex and Evan were in civilian attire, sitting under a big tree in the grass, smiling into the camera. A picture which could’ve been taken anywhere on Earth. It had accompanied a message they’d sent to their parents via e-mail. The flowers at their feet were the same ones he’d planted in Colorado and they both looked tired but happy. And why wouldn’t they? They’d gone to the mainland, dropped Carson off to do some fishing with the Athosians and gone for a hike. An ordinary day, if it hadn’t been for the constant threat of a Wraith attack or the fact that they’d flown there via a ten thousand year-old Ancient ship. Not that his parents needed to know any of that.

            “Of course we did. I even printed out all your e-mails.”

            “You know, if you don’t delete those mails, you can just keep them on your computer and not waste paper.”

            “Don’t take that tone with me… are you in the mood for Chinese?”

            “Sure!” Alex grinned at him, her eyes almost mischievous. She just enjoyed the fact that his mother was as pitiful a cook as she was.

            Evan kissed her neck and pulled her close. His eyes travelled over the wall of pictures. His parents’ wedding, his grandparents, his and Ellen’s high school graduation, Evan in his first uniform… and then there was that picture of him, Alex and Nora. The one they’d taken a few weeks before Nora had died. Evan pressed his cheek against Alex’s while his father sat down in his chair, reaching for his newspaper.

            What their life would’ve been like, had Nora not died, he couldn’t even begin to imagine. He could only have stayed in contact with Alex via e-mail. Once a week he’d have gotten messages from her and only been able to send her his reply the next week. And his daughter wouldn’t recognize him. She’d have asked when he’d be going away again… what a nightmare. Not that things were ideal as they were, but that image made his stomach lurch. Alex’s dad had died when she was twelve. He’d been a pilot and she’d barely known him. How should he have lived with that? With knowing that his daughter wouldn’t recognize him when he got back.

 

Alex was sitting on the staircase, watching Evan chasing Simon and Paul. How she hated feeling this jealous. That nagging feeling was easier to ignore in Atlantis, where there were no children, but watching him grab little Simon, then Paul, hoisting them up and carrying them into the living room, made her want to cry.

            She’d given up on imagining him with Nora. Nora was long gone, but what would it have been like to see him hold another child? A healthy child, who hadn’t gone through hell, like their daughter had?

            Ellen’s footsteps in the narrow hallway reminded her that she wasn’t alone, and she knew that Evan must have seen the look in her eyes as well. She took the glass of wine without looking at her sister in law. “Thanks.”

            “Sorry to say this, but you look dreadful.”

            Alex shrugged. “I’m okay.” And she was. She really was. Yes, she’d missed home terribly, but didn’t they all? Anna at least became teary-eyed every time they sat on one of the countless balconies after a long day of work. “How about you?”

            Raising her eyebrows, Ellen leaned against the railing. “Good.” She nodded. The squeaky laughter from next door almost made Alex want to get up and go to their room. Dealing with children on missions was one thing. It wasn’t easy but being around Ellen and her happy family was considerably harder. She wouldn’t have thought it possible. “How are things with you and Evan?”

            Before, talk like that had been easier. Before, a lot of things had been, really. “You don’t have to play matchmaker anymore, you know that, right?”

            “Yep, I do. But still… you can’t talk about it? You’re sure?”

            Alex shrugged. “About what exactly? Work? No, I can’t, though I can tell you that I haven’t been playing in the dirt as much as I would’ve liked.”

            “Why don’t you quit then? Go, find another job at a university.”

            Alex cleared her throat and shook her head. “I don’t want to be separated from Evan again,” she explained, though that wasn’t the complete truth. She had a sense that, though she wasn’t one of the incredibly talented physicists, she was still doing a good job in the Pegasus Galaxy, documenting all she could of the cultures that had been whiped out by the Wraith. “And I like what I do there.”

            “Hm…” Ellen looked at her thoughtfully and took a sip of wine. “And how are things in the bedroom?”

            “Ellen…” Alex’s cheeks grew hot and she quickly looked at her shoes. “He’s your brother.”

            “Oh, I was there when he had his first girlfriend over, when mom and dad were off to visit our grandparents. I slept next door.”

            Alex nearly choked on her wine. “Well, I don’t want to talk about it with you.” Had Ellen been literally anyone else, well maybe apart from any other member of Evan’s family, she would’ve been a little less reluctant to talk about such a sensitive topic, but not with Ellen. If he ever found out his sister had even asked about their sex-life, he would’ve killed her.

            “That bad?”

            “No!” Alex jumped up. “No, it’s not, and… Ellen!”

            “Ah…”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” Alex hissed, gulping the rest of her wine.

            “Nothing, I’m just trying to get you to talk.”

            “I’m kind of surprised you want to know.”

            “What do you want to know, mom?”

            Alex almost choked on her own spit when she heard the voice behind her. Paul. Alex looked at him over her shoulder. The boy was the spitting image of Evan. She’d seen pictures. The roundish face, the dark hair and the striking blue eyes made her stomach tighten, but what had her worried more was that Paul might have heard what she and Ellen had been talking about.

            “Her recipe for lemon cake, darling. Weren’t you playing with your uncle?”

            “Yes, but he’s reading a book to Simon now and I don’t like that book. It’s just for kids.”

            Ellen sighed. “You only want him to read the book you want, right?”

            “So?”

            “So, you have to make compromises sometimes! I’m not reading you The Lion King for the billionth time, just because Uncle Evan isn’t tending to your every whim.”

            Paul stomped his foot and for a moment there Alex was only certain the little boy would either start arguing or crying. By the way his lip was trembling, the latter was more likely, but after a few seconds he whirled around on his heel and sat down on the couch next to Evan, his arms crossed over his chest and eyes fixed on the coffee table. Evan didn’t seem disturbed, he just kept reading the big picture book, his youngest nephew in his lap and Monsieur on his other side.

            “What I meant…” Ellen said softly, “was if you two don’t want to give it another try.”

            Alex shrugged and shook her head. “No,” she said categorically, sitting down on the staircase again.

            “Don’t move.” Ellen put a hand on her shoulder and hurried back to the kitchen to get the rest of the bottle. Sitting down next to Alex, she poured the rest of the dark liquid into their glasses. “You never talked about what happened. I mean, I know what happened to Nora wasn’t expected, but… what about before?”

            “I-“ Alex took a deep breath, twirling the wine in her glass. “I can’t tell you.”

            “Not the details, maybe, but I really don’t understand why- Evan said they took her from you, but not how or why-“

            Alex bit her lip. No, she’d never talked about it to Ellen, or her sister, or Anna, or her own mother. It was too much to remember, too much to regret. “Well… I.” She heaved a heavy sigh. Ellen must have been the closest friend she had for a very long time. After that breakup with Evan all those years ago, Ellen had remained her friend, had encouraged her to date other men, and, when the time came, had kept pushing her towards Evan. “You know, I can’t go into details,” she looked into her glass, unable to look at Ellen. “But I just can’t stand facing those memories again. Or make him live through it again. I was so numb for such a long time.”

            “Things are different now, though. You’re not living in constant danger, you’re married…”

            That wasn’t completely true. Atlantis was no place for a child, and going back home to raise the child on her own would’ve been impossible as well. She shrugged. “I just don’t want to-“

            “That’s a pretty bad lie, you know that, right?”

            Alex scoffed. “Maybe. But believe me, if I could tell you, you wouldn’t ask again.”

Chapter Text

 

2006

“You know, I’ve missed this!” Evan said, breathing heavily. They were going much too fast and this landscape seriously deserved more of their attention, but somehow they’d just ended up pushing each other to get up this hill as quickly as possible.

            “Don’t you get to walk through the woods on your day-job anymore?” Alex gasped, holding a stitch in her side. She stopped and he just knew that they’d have to take a break now. They’d been walking for three hours straight, picking up their pace these last ten minutes or so.

            “Not as much, no,” Evan grinned, wiping the sweat off his brow. They were so close to the top now. “Come on.” Getting her to start walking again would either take force or lots and lots of patience. And his heart was racing too fast to slow down. He grabbed her sweaty hand and started pulling her with him. Her skin felt much too warm, but she held on tight to him and started walking again.

            “Well, I get to walk much less than you, so ease up a little.”

            Evan grunted, but didn’t relent. The Jumpers had certainly made exploring new planets easier, but it also meant that they didn’t hike as much as they used to and it showed. He wasn’t getting fat, not yet, but his lack of stamina shocked him. They really needed to start working out more. Both of them. He pulled her towards him roughly and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She smelled of sweat and sunblock and the forest around them. “I have to make sure Murdoch’s team goes to worlds with less Spacegates.”

            “I could still outrun McKay.”

            “Honey, my dad could outrun McKay.”

            Alex’s laugh made his heart contract in the best possible way. Even if they had spent some time together and outside the previous year, this hadn’t happened in a while. Before going to Atlantis they’d both been too preoccupied to think of taking a real break and this was the first leisure time which lasted more than two or three days that they had together in…well, ever. It was almost felt like getting to know his wife all over again.

            Her hand slid up his side as they overcame the last few hundred metres and the path wasn’t rising anymore. An elderly couple, a dog walking tiredly next to them came into view and his heart sank. Only about a week ago, Monsieur had passed away in his arms, almost like his long-time companion had been waiting for him to come home. They didn’t even need to take him to the vet. Monsieur had just lain there, at the foot of their bed, staring at him, until Evan had lifted him into bed with him and held him, until he stopped breathing. Well he’d almost expected Monsieur to be dead when he got home, so being there for him had been a relief, but it didn’t make it any easier. He’d gotten Monsieur a few weeks after he’d been assigned to the SGC and the dog had been there for both him and Alex in their darkest hour. If it hadn’t been for Monsieur, they wouldn’t even have known that Nora had died until the next morning. At least Monsieur had been there for their little girl. And how best to repay him than to be with him when it was time for him to go.

            Alex moved closer to him when they passed the dog, who didn’t pay them the slightest bit of attention. “If we ever get back here,” she said, and he knew with here she meant Earth, “we’ll have to get a dog again.” She sounded hoarse and it didn’t even sound as horrible as it must to others. She didn’t say a new dog, or another dog. You couldn’t replace one dog with another.   

            “How badly do you want to come back?” he asked carefully, letting go of her. The trail was better tended here than it had been a couple of hundred metres back. They had to be close to the viewpoint and accompanying restaurant now. There seemed to be more people here, among them more elderly couples. They’d taken the rental car up to the top, then taken the bus down into the valley, only to climb up again. Would this be them at some point? Nothing but a couple out on a short walk with their dog and not a care in the world? No, these people had cares and worries. Just not the ones that could mean the end of one or two galaxies.

            Alex shrugged. “I don’t,” she said and to his surprise sounded like she meant it. “I mean, sure, I wouldn’t want to stay there forever, but it’s where we’re needed and I like working with the people there and working there itself is so different from it was at the SGC. Well, of course it is, the cultures which developed there are so different from those in this galaxy, and yet so similar…” She smiled apologetically. She had been just about to drift off into excited talk about her work, and she knew that couldn’t happen out in the open like this. There could be other people around.

He nodded. “I kind of feel the same.” Atlantis was his home for now, but more than anything it was a refuge from what had happened to them here. And he had to admit, he liked the excitement and the different pace in the city of the Ancients. Everything was a bit less formal there, and it had a lot to do with their commanding officer, though of course nothing could ever fully erase military etiquette. Colonel Sheppard really didn’t stick by the rules when it didn’t suit him. Not that Evan minded. “I have to admit I didn’t expect you to say that,” he muttered. An arrow up ahead pointed to their left, along a narrow path spluttered with tree roots, but already the parking lot and accompanying bus stop could be seen.

            “Why?” With a frown, she disentangled herself from him and slung her backpack forward to get to her water bottle. “Do I seem so unhappy to you?”

            “No…” he said, “Just… things haven’t been easy, have they?”

            “No.” Alex took a gulp of water and cleared her throat. “No, they haven’t.” She put her bottle away and took his hand again. Forcefully almost. “But, apart from what happened with us, I don’t believe anybody on Atlaaaaanta had it particularly easy.” Her voice grew quieter as another couple, a young man and woman suddenly appeared in front of them, out of another path crossing with theirs.

            Evan squeezed her hand and picked up the pace again. “Yes, I get what you mean. I’m just relieved to hear you don’t resent me for dragging you there.”

            “You didn’t drag me,” she corrected him. “I would’ve threatened General O’Neill with my bare hands if I had to.”

            “Tickets to that please.”

            “You really want to see your General begging for mercy?” She bumped into his side as they crossed the parking lot and stopped by their rental car to drop off one of the backpacks. 

            “Absolutely,” Evan grinned, watching Alex close the trunk again and pocketing the car keys. “He wouldn’t stand a chance against an angry you.”

            “I know!” She wasn’t laughing now, but her smile managed to take his breath away. It still happened on a regular basis, but the hot August sun blazing down at them, the loss of tension in his back, made all the terrible stuff that had happened these past few weeks just fade away. For now at least. As she passed him, he grabbed her wrist. “I’m not that hungry, actually,” he murmured, stepping closer to her. They’d barely checked into their hotel last night before drifting off to sleep, and if anything, this was their substitute-honeymoon, or at least that’s what they’d called it. It was highly questionable which day should count as their wedding day. There’d been that short ceremony at the courthouse, but no celebration. They’d started living together as husband and wife on Larsa, but there hadn’t been a ceremony. How much time had passed since he felt connected to her like this again, he couldn’t say, but right now, at this very moment, he felt like that young Lieutenant again. The one who’d approached a beautiful woman and somehow known his life was about to change fundamentally.

            Well, no, he didn’t know that back then. He’d been drawn to her and incredibly, that feeling had stuck and here they were, eleven years later. Almost like those years spent separated from each other had never happened. And at the same time he knew her better than he had back then. He knew what she looked like when she was angry, what her voice sounded like when she was so desperate, she could barely bring herself to speak, how she felt in his arms, trembling and shaking. What it was like to be allowed to hold on to her when all the light in his life seemed to have gone out.

            “I didn’t come all this way from another galaxy just to shag, Major,” she whispered in his ear, her lips tracing the soft skin beneath his earlobe.

            That word alone made him weak in the knees. “Do it anyway?”

            She patted his cheek and withdrew. “I really want to try this schnitzel!” She laughed and kissed him briefly. Anna had told her about this place, Evan knew. It must have been a really, really long time ago, but Anna’s story of her childhood holidays had been enough to make Alex drag him here, to this small area in the centre of Germany, where only Dutch people went on holiday. At least, after this, they’d go to Trier. It was high time they visited their old stomping grounds again before heading back to Colorado.

            “I sure hope it’s worth it.”

            “Can’t be worse than Teyla’s soup?” she grinned up at him. The Athosians threw an annual party commemorating their arrival on Lantea.

            “That’s a touch harsh.”

            “She apologized before handing me a bowl, that ought to count for something.”

            “You are not wrong.” They started heading towards the tower straight ahead and the restaurant attached to it. “So this place is just a viewpoint?”

            “And a tourist attraction and apparently, in winter, you can ski here as well.”

            Evan grunted. “Good thing we came here in summer.” They’d reached the terrace attached to the restaurant now and there weren’t too many people. Was that a good sign? Probably not, but who cared. He was determined to enjoy their time here, jetlag or no.

            The plastic chairs were a bit wobbly and had to be at least as old as rest of the restaurant. He turned around in his chair to look up at the tower completely covered in shales. This region had a lot of that, shales on the outsides of houses. Was the weather this bad here usually if they needed this ugly dark stone to protect their buildings. When he turned around again, he saw that Alex wasn’t looking at him, but to their left, at the landscape spreading out beneath them. And she was right. They could see the ocean every day, and though the view from their quarters on Atlantis was amazing, this was a nice change of pace. To be able to just sit somewhere and look at rolling hills covered in green, the clear blue sky overhead and no pressure to go off-world and no immediate threat from the Wraith.

            The waiter arrived and Evan let Alex order for the both of them, relishing in the sound of her voice and how the melody of her speech changed when she started talking a foreign language. She really had that down, though she always insisted that she was no linguistic genius like Jackson. She wasn’t even being humble. She genuinely believed that. Well, she didn’t need to be like Jackson. She’d learned Wraith this past year and that, in combination with her German, French, Ancient, Ancient Hebrew and Greek, Latin, Assyran, and a few other snippets of dead languages, made her fluent in seven languages, as opposed to Jackson, who must speak a trillion languages.

            “What?” Alex asked, catching him staring at her. She took off her sunglasses and replaced them with her regular ones, square with no frame at the bottom.

            “Just thinking.”

            “About what?”

            He grinned and shook his head as she took off her glasses again, cleaned them on her sweaty shirt and put them on again. She hated having to wear glasses, but he just loved how they made her look even smarter. “You wouldn’t want me to say.”

            “Oh, now I want you to say it.”

            “Should we get some ice cream after this?”

            Raising her eyebrows, she leaned back in her chair. The corners of her mouth were beginning to twitch. How could this woman really be his? How could she be just satisfied with having him, who only spoke English and German, the latter only badly?

            “I thought you wanted to get some sleep.”

            “I can have both.”

            Her laugh was enough to make him want to get up straight away, drag her to the car and to their hotel.

            They didn’t have to wait long for their food to arrive, and Evan had to remind himself that they were on holiday and should enjoy it. Even if schnitzel on a piece of toast with a fried egg on top wasn’t a dish he’d expected. “Huh…” he muttered, reaching for the ketchup bottle to drown his fries in the red sauce.

            “It’s typical for this region, apparently,” Alex said, consulting her tourist guide. She’d been studying that thing since their arrival in Germany two days ago. He’d never really met tourist-Alex, he realized and her excitement at seeing and discovering new things fascinated him once again. She could almost see her talking excitedly to what she’d seen to Jackson or Anna.

            “It’s good,” he admitted, sprawling a generous portion of ketchup on his fried egg. And he was hungry. Starving almost. Breakfast had been cut a bit short that day. Getting the chance to sleep in for a whole two weeks wasn’t anything he was going to miss, even if it meant only getting scraps at the breakfast buffet. Accordingly, both their plates were clean within minutes, and Alex slipped her napkin under the plate.

            “I need to go to the bathroom.”

            Evan nodded and reached for his backpack to get his wallet. They were leaving again tomorrow. Two more days, in Trier and then they would be heading home again. Really, this trip had been far too short, and who could tell how long it would take for Daedalus to get back to Earth anyway. Well, that would allow them to spend a couple of days in their house at least.

            A movement to his right caught his attention. The young couple which had crossed their path in the forest was preparing to leave. The dark-haired woman patted the man on the shoulder, whispered something in his ear and started walking towards the restaurant. The man caught his eye, nodded once and got up.

“Excuse me,” he said. American accent. Here, in the middle of nowhere. Light green eyes. Red hair, fair skin. “Major Lorne?”

Evan sat up straight, his blood turning to ice.

“No, don’t worry, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions.” Without being asked, he sat in the chair Alex had just vacated. Questions from a complete stranger, who  knew his name. He had to keep himself from whipping around and look out for Alex. She could handle herself. 

“Why would you do that?” He forced himself to grin and wave the waiter closer to pay for their lunch. The man kept quiet while the waiter was nearby and didn’t leave for as long as the waiter was within earshot.

“Come on, Evan, you can talk to me. I’d just like to ask you a couple of questions about a common friend and your place of work. Atlantis, right?”

Shaking his head, Evan got to his feet, backpack in hand. “Is that a video game? I’m not a big fan of those.”

With a shrug, the man leaned back and pulled a photograph from his breast pocket. Placing it in front of Evan, he folded his hands in front of his chest. “You’re sure? You’re here with Alex, right? Javier didn’t mention you got married.”

Evan’s mouth was parched as he looked down at the picture. He remembered that face. Of course he did. You didn’t forget the face of a friend like that. A friend he’d betrayed. He was just about to shrug it off and head back to the restaurant, when he saw Alex hurrying towards him, her face white as a sheet. And then his gaze slid to the red splashes on her yellow shirt.

The stranger jumped to his feet, but before he could reach for his belt and the gun he must be hiding there, Evan balled his hand into a fist and punched him in the jaw with as much force as he could muster. The man fell over backwards, but before he hit the ground, Alex reached for his hand and pulled him away from him and towards the car. “Let’s get away from here.”

Chapter Text

2006

The running footsteps were right behind them and he could hear the man’s grunts as he tried to catch up with them. Not long now, and he’d draw the gun he’d been reaching for.

            A sideways look at Alex told Evan that she was just as prepared for it as he was. She reached into her pocket and threw something at him. Something black and metallic and small. The car keys. “You’re the pilot!” she gasped as a small portion of the asphalt at their feet exploded.

            “Get in!” he shouted, unlocking the door from afar. Was this a good idea? He couldn’t be entirely sure, but who could tell how many more accomplices that guy had.

            He almost stumbled as gravel splashed up in front of him. Was that guy aiming to kill? Or was he just a terrible shot? Or did he just want them to stop? Cursing, he jumped into the car and started the motor, ducking, when the back window burst and the car door on the passenger side slammed shut.

            “Go!”

            Putting the car into reverse, he noticed that Alex’s hand was bleeding. What the hell was going on here? “Call the SGC,” hissed, pulling back. The red-haired man smashed into their hood, the gun with the long silencer slipping out of his hand. No time to wait and negotiate a truce. He just stepped on the gas, hoping for the best and felt the car shudder as their pursuer slid off the hood. “You’re okay?” Evan shouted, practically ripping the steering wheel to the left as he sped down the parking lot and into the street.

            “Yes,” Alex breathed, dragging the backpack off his lap, smearing blood on the fabric.

            “Alex! You’re bleeding!”

She shook her head. “Not mine. What the fuck, how did they find us?!” No Who were they? No What’s going on here? She’d been part of the Stargate Program too long for those to be her first questions. He threw a look over his shoulder. No car right behind them. And they couldn’t go back to the hotel. If these people had found them in a place like that, they must know where they were staying.

            “I don’t know,” he breathed, refusing to hit the break as he sped down the road. His reflexes were good enough for this, though he wasn’t entirely sure how well the car would do. It certainly was no F-302. Her hands were shaking as she hit the speed-dial.

            “What do you mean it’s not your blood?”

            She shook her head. “She cornered me. Asked me how well I remember Larsa…” She grabbed the door handle for support as he threw them into the next road and down into the valley. Larsa… the planet they’d been stranded on for months on end. “I- yes! Hello, this is Doctor Lorne. We’re in Germany and we were just tracked down by two armed people. We’re being followed, one of them’s dead.”

            Dead… had she- he looked at her, at the blood on her shirt and on her hand, at how pale she was.

            “Yes- yes, I understand. Evan, pull over.”

            He didn’t question her. The side of the road was wide enough where they were. Taking a deep breath, he looked at her. Odyssey was bound to be in orbit, ready to beam them out of here.

            “You’re sure you’re okay?”

            She nodded, though her eyes were wide and she was still breathing heavily. “You?”

            “Yeah… rattled, but I’m okay.”

            “Okay.”

He got out of the car, headed for the trunk to get the other backpack. No time to collect their bags from the hotel, but that could be handled.

            Next thing he knew, he was standing in the briefing room of the SGC, the cool, air-conditioned air flooding his lungs, as they stood in front of General Landry and a medical team rushed up the stairs. Alex closed her phone and put it back into her pocket.

            “What the hell happened, Major?!”

            Evan shook his head. “We were attacked, Sir.” Biting his lip, he looked at Alex. She was still holding his backpack and still looked pale, but this wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle.

            “Yes, I gathered that. Why? By whom?”

            “You should contact the local authorities, General,” Alex said, waving off the doctor approaching her. “No, really I’m fine. General, there’s a body in that bathroom and I don’t doubt somebody has found her by now.”

            “You killed a German citizen, Doctor?”

            “No, she was American- or sounded American.”

            Evan nodded. “So was the guy who cornered me, General. And armed. There were witnesses who must have seen him drawing a gun.”

            “Why? Why you and-“

            “They wanted to talk about the SGC. Larsa, Atlantis…” Alex rubbed her forehead. “They must have followed our movements this entire time.”

            Landry sighed. “Sit down, both of you.”

            “Sir, shouldn’t we go back?”

            “No, the IOA will want to hear of this and the NID is going to handle it for now.”

            Evan sighed and let himself fall into one of the chairs. This was going to be fun. First the attack, then this. An international investigation.

            “Walter, handle this,” Landry said and Harriman hurried off down into the control room. Since when had Harriman been here? This entire time? “Thanks, Doctor Lam, I’ll send them down to you when we’re done here.” Those eyebrows were really distracting, Evan thought, watching Landry sit down in his own chair.

            “Doctor?”

            Alex flinched and pulled up a chair. “Yes. Sorry, I’m just- I didn’t expect her to even know the name Larsa.”

            Evan nodded. “Yeah, the guy who talked to me mentioned Javier, or rather showed me a picture of him.” Alex’s head whipped around to him.

            “Who’s Javier?” Landry asked, sounding annoyed.

            “Javier Pérez. He was a Lieutenant in the Air Force, stationed with me in Spangdahlem in 95. Got a dishonourable discharge for- well, for being gay sir, and trying to run off when his boyfriend was killed in action.”

            Landry frowned at him and for a second there Evan thought he was going to say something snarky, but Landry just shrugged and jotted down the name. “I’ll have someone look into it.”

            “Sir, can I? If anything, I feel responsible now.” If anything had happened to Javier, then it was probably his fault. Anyone who looked into his file, would know that it had been him, Evan, who had told on him and that Evan and Javier had been in the same squadron.

            With a nod, Landry leaned back. “You’re going to have to answer these questions again as soon as the investigation kicks off for real- yes, Doctor?”

            Alex shook her head. “Sir, would you mind if we cleaned up, first? This …” She held up her still bloodied hand and shrugged.

 

It wasn’t just the stranger’s blood.

She just hadn’t really noticed the cut on her leg, before she reached the infirmary. Just a shallow cut, but a cut nonetheless. Doctor Lam, the new resident surgeon, bandaged it and gave her a tetanus shot, just in case.

“How did this happen?”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know… She tried to shoot me in the leg so I couldn’t run, but I just… I don’t know, pushed her arm aside, the bullet hit the sink.” Shaking her head, she looked apologetically at Evan who was sitting on the next bed. She could still feel the hot metal of the gun, one of a similar make she used to take on her first few missions. The way it felt smooth and even and hot against her skin, as she tried twisting it out of the woman’s hand. “I- she shoved me as I tried getting at her gun. That’s how it must have happened.”

Yes, she’d been in fights before, she’d shot bullets before, but never on Earth, never here. Never had she been responsible for a human’s death. After a short fight, she’d managed to get a good hold of the gun, the woman had drawn a knife and things had just… “She must be dead,” Alex whispered. Nobody could survive that kind of wound. A bullet straight to the chest.

Doctor Lam shone a bright light into her eyes and nodded. “You’re still in shock. You need some rest.”

No doubts there. And there wasn’t anything she could do at the moment anyway.

“You too, Major. I’ll let General Landry know that you can’t be questioned until tomorrow morning.”

“Which will be when exactly?”

Doctor Lam looked at her watch. “Six hours.”

Anything could happen in that time. “I have to talk to him now,” Evan said. “Our families could be in danger and-“

“Don’t you think he’s thought of that?”

Ignoring her, Evan leaned in to kiss Alex’s forehead. “I’ll catch up with you.” He was right. If they’d learned anything, it was that the Air Force couldn’t always be trusted. They’d left him and her stranded once. That kind of thing wasn’t something you could just forget. He was out the door before she knew it.

With a sigh, Doctor Lam reached into her pocket and pulled out a blister, which she handed to Alex. “To help you fall asleep. Take one, give one to him when he gets back.” She must have given up giving advice on taking things easy around here. Carson certainly had.

“Thanks, Doctor,” Alex said, getting to her feet and now she felt the sting of the cut. Shock… well, that made sense. But she could walk and that was probably the main thing. If she didn’t have that rudimentary hand-to-hand combat training, she might be dead now. Evan could be dead now. And to think that only a few hours ago, they’d been happily hiking through a hilly region in central Germany, and now they were back at the SGC, stuck under a mountain in Colorado, not knowing what had just happened or why.

She really didn’t need that airman to guide her to the guest quarters. She knew the way by heart right now, but she was too tired to complain. They couldn’t go to their house after what had just happened, so this was how it had to be at the moment. Thanking the airman with a brief nod, she stepped into the bleak, grey room with its queen size bed against one wall and a narrow closet, which held spare uniforms. Without hesitating, she stripped to her underwear and slipped under the covers, shivering in the sudden cold.

 

One hour passed, then two. The pills were still on the night stand and Evan hadn’t shown up. Of course he hadn’t. She should have known better. She was lying on her back, staring into the darkness. That woman… Alex could still see the shock on her face, hear that low gasp of surprise and pain, feel the ground shake as her body hit the white tiles of the bathroom. It was almost enough to make her throw up.

            She got back up again, put on the clean on-base uniform again and left the room. There weren’t any guards in the corridors. Apparently she was the only guest in here at the moment and it was the middle of the night. There were always people around, working feverishly on one project or other, but night-time was still quieter than day-time around here.

            One year had passed since she’d walked through these corridors, but it still felt the same. Familiar and cold at the same time.

            As she’d expected, Evan was sitting in the small mess hall, a mug of coffee in front of him, his shoulders hunched as he read through a file and twirled a pencil in his right hand. “I thought you said you’d come to bed,” she said quietly, not surprised that he didn’t flinch when she sat down next to him. He just threw her a glance and smiled briefly.

            “Sorry. I-“

            “You’re worried about Javier.”

            Evan nodded. “Yes, I wrote to him two years ago and he never replied. What if this is why?”

            She reached for his mug and took a sip. How could he stand this taste? “This has to be connected to the Trust or something like that, right?”

            “Let’s hope so.” Leaning back, he put his hand on her leg and rubbed his eyes. “Those two knew our personnel files, that’s for sure.”

            “What are you reading up on?”

            With a shake of his head, he pushed the file he’d been reading towards her. “The Trust isn’t just the Trust anymore,” he said.  She knew that. The Trust, an organization composed of ex-NID agents and some wealthy business magnates, had been a pain in the SGCs ass for a while now, even putting Earth into danger occasionally, but there had been rumours in Atlantis, that Goa’uld had started taking over the organization, and looking at the file in front of her, she had to find that those rumours were true. “So, the guys who attacked us were Goa’uld?” she muttered with a frown, turning a page and skimming it, feeling a short pang, when the name Ba’al turned up.

            “No, they weren’t very good at what they were doing, were they? A bit unprofessional?”

            Alex raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “Would you have preferred pros?” She doubted she could have held her ground against a real assassin and she had to admit, the way that woman had approached her had been more than clumsy.

            “No… hey, I hear an Agent Barrett is coming in tomorrow to talk to us.”

            “I head of him, never met him…” she skimmed through the file some more, not in the least surprised that, apparently, Ba’al had created multiple clones of himself and placed them all over the galaxy.  Talk of a guy afraid to die. The last page consisted of pictures of people connected to the company he’d taken over and the dates when they’d first appeared in some kind of executive function.

            “Barton Corp… what do they even make?” Alex asked.

“Books… they’re a publisher. Mostly geeky stuff, but they also own a newspaper or two.”

Alex was reaching for the next file, when her eyes fell on the picture on the bottom left corner. The young woman who’d attacked her had only joined Barton Corp about a year ago. “That’s her,” she said, pointing at the face. “Hera Simon?”

            Evan shrugged and reached for another file, one of the thinner ones. The name she’d just said was printed in bold letters on the front. “I thought it must be her,” he said. “And yes, she does look an awful lot like an old friend.” He opened the folder to reveal a sort of CV with her picture in the top right corner. Did she? “She’s, allegedly, the niece of Douglas Barton, aka Ba’al, married to Corbin Simon, who is… this guy.” He opened another file and she recognized the face. Well, the last time she’d seen it, the man had been lying on the hood of their car, pointing a gun at her face, so that fake smile didn’t match with the one she remembered, but there was something else...

            Alex pulled the woman’s file closer, staring at the lines around her mouth as she smiled into the camera, the shape of her eyes. There were some similarities between her and Ba’al, certainly. “So, Ba’al sent some rogue, incapable operatives after us? Why? He can’t still be after the gene, if he’s head of the Trust, he must know about Beckett’s gene therapy.”

            Evan shrugged. “I don’t know… maybe he really did just want some additional intel. But as far as these files go, Barton Corp has ceased to exist some time ago, about the same time the thing with he multiple Ba’al clones came out. So…”

            “So, we still won’t be able to go back home until this case is solved?”

            “Looks that way.”

            “Great… what did you find out about Javier?”

            “Not much…” Evan tapped his pencil on the stack of files and shrugged. “Moved to Nevada after his discharge, worked as a gym teacher for a while, and then joined Barton Corp some time ago.”

            “Huh… So, where is he now?”

            “I don’t know. Last known address is in New Jersey.”

            “So that’s where we’ll be going?”

            He looked at her, a smile flickering over his face. “You ready to walk into another trap with me?”

            “Sure, that’s what wives are for.” She looked at the other file again. The face on this one seemed familiar as well… she’d seen that guy somewhere before. But- “Corbin Simon…” she muttered. “He made me a job offer…” She bit her lip. “He’s a bit younger than us, but he worked for a big publisher. Wanted me to be a consultant of sorts, right after I contacted Daniel for the first time… huh.”

            “This is going to take a while….” Evan muttered. Sheppard wasn’t going to be happy about this delay, but who could tell how much danger their families were in right now? They’d been put under surveillance and Evan knew that they would receive the best protection available on this planet, but for how long? How long until the Air Force decided that the threat wasn’t imminent anymore? They needed to act. And fast.

Chapter Text

2006

It must be the last warm day of the season, but the night was bound to be cold. He reached for his hoodie to stuff into his backpack, just in case. She’d get cold, that was for sure. She always did.

            “Don’t we have to get going?”

            Alex shook her head, her hair falling into her eyes. “Urgh, don’t make me.” Pulling the blanket over her head, she turned away from him.

            His heart sank as he watched her. “Come on, Javier and Sam are waiting for us at the restaurant.”

            “I know… just, it’s your bed’s fault. Far too cozy.”

            Laughing, he bent low over her and pulled the blanket to the side. Her blue eyes flashed viciously up at him and her lips- God be forgiven for putting lips like that on a human being – smiled up at him. They’d been together for just a couple of weeks… Had it been four? Six? Evan couldn’t tell exactly, but there hadn’t been a night when he’d been off-base that he didn’t spend with her. “Come on, I’m starving.”

            The grunt emanating from her throat made him laugh even more. “Fine! But don’t ever say that your girlfriend doesn’t take care of you!”

            “Wouldn’t dream of it.” He tugged at the blanket again and had to hold back not to start this whole thing up again. They really were running late.

 

“No, mom. We’re okay.” Alex was leaning against the side of the car, phone pressed against her ear, while Evan made sure that their guns were loaded and ready to go. Just in case.

            He went through the usual routine, checking the magazine one last time, and handed one of them to Alex, who hid it in the waistband of her skirt. She rolled her eyes at him, as her mother complained loudly enough for him to hear. Something about why that bodyguard didn’t just follow her to the bathroom already.

            “Mom, it won’t be for long, I promise. Just a precaution. All the families of expedition members are getting that sort of protection just in case.” She held up her hand and crossed her index and middle fingers. The stone in her wedding band flashed briefly in the sunlight. “I promise. No, I’m not lying. Evan and I are back in the States, yes, visiting an old friend. Yes, I’ll let you know before we leave again.”

            He could just see her keeping an exasperated groan to herself as she threw her head back. “Yeah. Yes… Okay… bye!” And then it came. That groan. Heartfelt and so annoyed he wished she’d never think that way about him.

            “Liar,” he grinned.

            “Yes, well… not entirely. And is it a terrible lie if I’m forced to lie to my mom because my employer makes me?”

            “Or for the sake of her own safety and that of humankind?”

            She grinned and shrugged. That interview with Agent Barrett had taken more than just a few hours and a bit longer for them to be allowed off-base again, under the strict understanding that they were wired and under constant supervision by the NID. Not that that would be any kind of help if they got into serious trouble. He rubbed her arm and forced himself to return her grin. “Let’s go?”

            “Let’s go.” She threw one last look at the black van parked down the street, before she opened the car door. It wasn’t a long ride from where they were to the place Javier had bought a few months ago. They were in a rather nice neighbourhood, which led him to believe that Javier must have done quite well for himself after joining Barton’s little empire.

The house was small and didn’t look anything out of the ordinary. The lawn was well-tended and almost too perfect. A clear sign that either Javier put all his energy into gardening these days, or that he employed a gardener. The Jaguar in the driveway suggested the latter.

            “He did quite well for himself, didn’t he?” Alex said with a look at Evan.

            “Looks that way. Huh, better than me:”

            Alex rolled her eyes. “You should’ve signed up with a master villain”

            Evan nodded absentmindedly and squeezed her hand. She didn’t need to be reminded that there were people listening in, but still. The very fact that Ba’al, no matter how, had turned up in their lives again must have her shaken to the core, especially since there was no telling what these people wanted from them.

            As they got out of the car, he watched the black van pull into the street and park a good distance away. Time to go. He closed his jacket and walked up to the front door, Alex right next to him. Remembering too well the first time she’d gone on a mission and how worried he’d been, he realized now that he wouldn’t want anyone else by his side. The few missions they’d been on after that time on Larsa had gone fine, but they hadn’t had to rely on one another as explicitly as they did now. And he wasn’t worried about her anymore- no, that wasn’t true. He wasn’t scared for her anymore. She’d grown so much these past three years.  Or had she? Had she merely lived up to her potential? That seemed more like it. But that she’d been adventurous had been clear from the start. There weren’t a whole lot of people out there, who were willing to turn a one-night-stand into a relationship like theirs. She’d been all-in from the moment they sat down to have ice cream that day, and there hadn’t been a more reliable person in his life ever since.

            It was Alex who rang the doorbell. Alex who tried peering through the window next to it. She shrugged. “Don’t think he’s here.”

            “Give it a few more seconds,” Evan said. Back in the day Javier had been a bit slow answering the door, too. But things had apparently changed. Javier was working for a company owned by the most powerful member of the Trust, and this whole thing could turn ugly faster than either of them could like. She gently nudged his side. “Camera,” she whispered. “Over the door. On the right.”

            Evan took a step back as if to look up to one of the windows on the upper floor and spotted the small camera straight away. With a nod, he touched her arm. “Nobody there.” They’d walk away for now and come back another time, or never. Before he could turn, however, he heard steps on the other side of the front door.

 

Good thing they didn’t have to fly tomorrow.

            Alex wrapped her arm around Evan’s middle and kissed his cheek. “You’re so drunk!”

            “Yes,” he agreed and threw his other arm around Javier. Sam was still inside the restaurant. How many beers had they had? Alex couldn’t remember, but what she did know was that the taxi they’d called would be there soon.

            And then Sam stepped into the cool September air, his face flushed and his eyes fixed on Javier, who caught his boyfriend in mid-stride. “Want to go get a hotel room?” Javier asked, brushing the hair out of Sam’s eyes.

            “You two do that,” Evan mumbled, his head resting against Alex’s.

            “You two as well.”

            “We’re gonna go back to our own room,” Alex laughed as the taxi pulled up to them. “Thanks for the offer.”

            “Urgh.” Sam pulled a face and kissed Javier square on the mouth. Alex could only hope that nobody spotted them. “Hold the taxi,” she said quietly, patting Evan’s cheek, who collapsed into the backseat. She’d only had two glasses and if that didn’t make her responsible for her friends, then what did? She clapped the two men on the shoulders and started pushing them in the direction of the restaurant again to get them a room in the small hotel attached to it. They couldn’t go back to base and who could tell who might spot them in their apartment building, which was mostly inhabited by officers anyway.

            When she finally came back to Evan, she saw that the driver had let the metre running. Of course he had, well, that couldn’t be helped. She wrapped an arm around Evan, who was almost asleep by now anyway and told the man the address.

            “You said our room,” he mumbled into her hair. She could hear the smile in his voice.

 

The moustache was new. Evan hadn’t expected his old friend to smile, or welcome him with open arms, but the moustache nearly knocked him off-balance for a second.

            “Hey…” Javier said quietly. He was wearing a dark blue cotton shirt, tucked in neatly into a pair of black jeans. Nothing suspicious about that appearance. “You look businesslike, Captain.”

            Was this a ruse? Or did Javier really not know? “Javier. Hey.”

            “Alex? Right?” Javier pointed at Alex with a frown. Why was he acting like that? Alex and him had seen each other dozens of times… well, it had been more than ten years, but still!

            “Can we come in?” she asked, pushing past him without waiting for permission.

            Javier sighed and stepped to the side to let Evan in as well. The house looked like it came straight out of a catalogue. No trace of dust anywhere, a couple of nondescript landscape photographs on the wall to their left, a simple staircase leading upstairs to their right. The kitchen was straight ahead. White tiles, white cupboards.

            Without waiting for an invitation, Alex moved into the living room.

            “How did you know I lived here?”

            “You really don’t know?” Evan asked. They were being monitored. Things would be okay.

            “You didn’t look me up, just to say hi, after I didn’t reply to that e-mail?”

            Evan shrugged and followed Alex, who was standing on the far wall, looking at pictures. Photographs. “I’m sorry about what happened, okay? I just didn’t know what else to do.”

            “You put your own career before our friendship. That’s what you did.”

            He nodded. There was no denying it. “I’m sorry.”

            Javier waved him off. “Whatever. So… you and Alex still, huh?”

            “Yep, still him and me.” Alex said, pointing at one of the pictures. “You don’t live here alone, do you?”

            “Oh, that’s Corbin. Just a friend.”

            Corbin… Evan exchanged one glance with Alex and knew who she’d seen. That stranger who had attacked them. The husband of the woman she’d killed. “Nice place,” she said, appreciatively. Javier was leaning in the doorway, eying them both suspiciously.

            “What do you want from me? When someone doesn’t reply, that usually means they don’t have anything to say.”

            “Look,” Evan said, taking a step towards Javier, when a voice sounded quietly in his ear: Car approaching. “The Air Force sent us.”

            “Us?” Javier laughed softly, making the hair on Evan’s arms stand on end. “You work for the Air Force?” He was looking at Alex now.   

            “Good pay,” she said with a sweet smile.

            “And what would the Air Force want from me?”

            “It’s a matter of national security, actually,” Evan said, half expecting Javier to step to the side and draw a weapon, but Javier just raised his eyebrow in mock interest.

            “Really, well, Captain-“

            “Major, actually.” Alex said, standing up for him. He suppressed a smile. Usually it was he who reminded people of her title. And then that voice spoke again. The people in the van really were paying attention. Car pulled to a stop, but nobody’s coming out. Wrap things up, Major Lorne.

            “Fine, Major, I have no idea what you want from me.”

            “You work for a man called Douglas Barton?” Alex sat down on the edge of a comfortable-looking chair, feigning being comfortable, when she must have heard the same voice Evan had. “What can you tell us about him?”

            “Barton?” Javier laughed, “The guy vanished a couple of weeks ago, and now you tell me that has something to do with national security? Why?”        

            “Because your friend,” Evan began, “Corbin Simon tried to kill us yesterday. He mentioned you. And you both work for a company that threatens-“ It’s Simon. Evan’s heart dropped, but he kept talking, his tongue only stumbling briefly- “national security. That’s why we’re here. We need to know what you know.”

            “He-what?!” Javier seemed genuinely surprised.

            “You heard me,” Evan said.

            “What the hell is wrong with you? You show up here after ten years to tell me-“

            He’s leaving again. Lorne, we need to break this off and follow him. Leave the premises.

            “- that you’re sorry and make some weird accusations? What the hell?”

            With a shake of her head, Alex got to her feet. She dug in the pocket of her jacket and took out a business card. “Give us a call when you’re ready to talk, okay?”

            “I don’t know anything, what do you even want from me?!”

            Evan shrugged. “I’d ask you to trust me, but I guess that’s a bit much to ask, I guess.”

            Javier scoffed and didn’t take the card Alex was offering him. She put it on the mantlepiece.

            “I’m under surveillance now, huh?”

            Alex raised her eyebrows. “A bit of cooperation would go a long way,” she said as Javier started wiping his hands on his trousers.

            “I’m just a military consultant.”

            “Sure,” Evan said.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

2006

“Do you think he as lying?” Alex shut the door behind her, her eyes still fixed on the house.

            “Yes,” Evan grumbled, starting the engine. “I wish we had more time with him.”

            Go back to the Motel, Major, said Barrett’s voice in her ear.

            “You know, I’m here as well,” Alex hissed, leaning back in her seat as Evan steered the car on the road, making him chuckle appreciatively. She ripped the microphone cable unceremoniously from its transmitter.

            Sorry, Doctor. We’ll meet you at the hotel. And then the transmission ended. The black van must finally be out of reach.

            “So…” Alex said, looking at him. His eyes were fixed on the street, his brow furrowed and his lips pressed into a thin line. “What?”

            Evan shook his head. “I’m sure he knew we were coming,” he said, “and that he was lying about his job, but…”

            “What?”

            “He didn’t know about Simon. I’m sure of it.”

            “You think he’s really oblivious to the attack?”

            “Maybe… it wasn’t a real attack either, though, was it? The Trust is so big, if they wanted us dead, we’d be dead. And we’d already been back on Earth for over a week, travelling the whole time. They could’ve gotten us whenever, wherever.”

            “Hm…” Alex shrugged. “Bit stupid to risk their operatives’ lives like that,” she agreed. “So clumsy…”

            “I’m not sure about that. You’re not clumsy. I’ve seen you fight Wraith and Jaffa. You’re not exactly a weak flower, dear.”

            “Heh, thanks. Just the thing a girl wants to hear.” It was meant as a compliment, though, and his words made that familiar warmth spread through her chest. Reaching out, she put her hand on his knee.

 

They didn’t catch Simon Corbin. Evan couldn’t say he was surprised. Ba’al had avoided capture for over a year, and who could tell if there weren’t still any clones here on Earth.

            Javier was put under surveillance, but from what they could tell, he didn’t do anything suspicious. He went to work, then to the gym and back home again. Well, of course he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He must know that he’d be closely watched.

            Evan and Alex weren’t allowed to go home, but were stuck on the base, when they should be walking through Trier. Slowly but surely it was driving him crazy. She could see it from the way he kept pacing their room when he couldn’t find any work to be done anymore. No new information turned up and at some point there just wasn’t any more paperwork to be done. So she put him to sketching artefacts which various SG- teams had brought in. Having a human hand draw them always brought more attention to certain details, which could easily be overlooked in photographs. A human eye was just more observant in some respects and she knew Daniel and the other archaeologists would appreciate Evan’s efforts. But that still didn’t make Evan less uneasy. To be fair, she didn’t feel particularly useful here either. Research and exploring hitherto unknown worlds had rather taken a step back in an attempt to help the people of the galaxy defend themselves against the Ori.

            Two days passed, then three and no news reached them. Nothing. She had never been confined like this and she was on the brink of becoming a gym addict. The grey walls surrounding them, the constant hum of the air conditioning however kept her from going there too often. But they also kept her from staying in their room for too long.

            She envied the SG-teams who at least had something to do, and not even the tasks Daniel shoved in her direction kept her occupied for too long. The dreariness in here had never really bothered her, but then again, she’s been allowed to leave the complex when her work was done.

            On the fourth day, Daedalus had left Atlantis almost two weeks ago, and they’d gotten a couple of brief notes from the latest transmission, she and Evan returned from a brief workout and sat down in the cafeteria. Work, gym, food, bed, work, gym, food, bed… that was their routine and it was mind-numbing to say the least. She wasn’t even interested in the pasta served that day, and that was saying something. Evan reached for the biggest slice of cake on display. He was getting positively pasty with boredom and she guessed it was only a matter of time before he begged to be assigned to an SG-team, just for the heck of it, to do something useful. And she’d beg to come along. This whole waiting-thing was driving her insane.

            “This blue jelly,” she heard a woman say, “What’s the matter with that. Why is it always blue around here?”      

            “I don’t know.” Daniel was sitting opposite a dark-haired woman in pig tails, who was scraping the whipped cream of her blue jell-o to put it on her pasta in tomato sauce.

            “What are you doing?”

            “It’s too sour.”

            “Actually not a bad idea,” Evan agreed from where they were standing.

            “Major!” Daniel looked up, seemingly surprised at their standing right next to them and looking relieved to see them. “Alex! Sit down, please!”

            “I know you,” the woman said and Alex grinned as she sat down next to Daniel. “I don’t know you.” She pointed her spoon at Evan, who took a seat next to her.

            “No, you don’t, Ma’am,” he said with a smile. He’d been off-world that brief time SG-1 had spent on Atlantis the previous year.

            “Did he just call me Ma’am?” She sounded downright offended.

            “Vala, this is Major Lorne, and this,” Daniel pointed at Alex, “is Doctor Lorne. And yes, you met her before.”

            Alex couldn’t stop grinning. SG-1 had been on a mission when she and Evan arrived and had embarked on another when they were forced to return here several days early.

            “Major and Doctor,” Vala said thoughtfully, eying Evan with a smirk on her face. “You’re not siblings by any chance?”

            Shaking his head and reaching for his fork, Evan held up his left hand to show her his wedding band. He threw Alex a questioning look but got his answer from Vala instead.

            “Pity.”

            “Vala…” Daniel said warningly.

            Alex leaned back in her chair. “When did you get back?” she asked, trying to distract Daniel from the woman who was apparently doing everything in her power to keep his attention.

            “Yesterday,” he replied with a sigh.

            “How bad is it out there?”

            He shrugged, and threw a glance at Vala. “Bad,” he said quietly. Last thing she’d heard, Dakara, the homeworld of the new Jaffa Nation had been destroyed by the Ori. Really, those armies were certainly a bigger threat than the Goa’uld had ever been.

            “Is there anything we can do to help?” Alex asked, pushing the pasta around on her plate.

            “Aren’t you going back in a few days?”

            “Well, yes.” Evan took a sip of coffee and shrugged. “But until then we’re just stranded here on base. We can’t even go home. “

            “Nobody believes how dull this place is.” Vala nodded appreciatively. “I mean, Teal’c does, but he doesn’t complain much.”

            “Jaffa don’t complain that much in general,” Daniel grinned. The way he looked at her, almost adoringly and at the same time incredibly annoyed. Did he even know it? Probably not. But Vala must notice it. She was much too perceptive a person not to. When Alex had met her first, when she and SG-1 had been to Atlantis and Alex had given her the small tour after they found what they were looking for, she’d been a bit surprised at how bubbly Vala was. Bubbly and eerily sad and impulsive at the same time. An extrovert covering up for someone else. Someone who surely wouldn’t show their true face to a stranger like Alex. But she sensed that Daniel would be someone who’d be more than willing to put an effort into finding out who that other person was, though maybe Daniel didn’t even know it himself. These two were close. Closer than either of them would probably care to admit.

            “So, what can we do?”

            Daniel raised his eyebrows. “Well, thanks for the drawings, first of all,” he looked at Evan now, “they’ve already been kind of useful, and maybe-“

            “Drawings? This man is an artist?” Vala’s eyes shone with excitement as she turned to face Evan again, “You know, I’ve been told, by a very talented painter on a planet called Sead, that my bone structure made me the perfect model.”

            Evan grinned at her then and quickly hid his expression by shoving his fork into his mouth. “Really?”

            “Sead?” Alex asked quietly, exchanging a glance with Daniel. “That’s-“

            “I know, Ba’al’s domain, but, you know, I used to work as a privateer-“

            “Pirate,” Daniel interrupted her, earning a look of utter disgust from her.

            “Privateer, Daniel.”

            “Pirate, Vala. I was there, remember?”

            Vala scoffed and threw one of her pig-tails over her shoulder. “I’m sure you do. Anyway, in my days as a privateer, I was exceptionally popular with the gents, but this man was particularly intriguing. He told me of a treasure,” she tapped her index on the table in front of her, “consisting of eight hundred and eighty two pieces of Goa’uld treasure which had turned an entire crew of mercenaries and head-hunters into undead monsters, roaming Ba’al’s domain and incredibly hard to kill. And guess what-“

            “Sounds an awful lot like Pirates of the Caribbean to be honest,” Evan said between two bites.

            “Huh… you’ve seen that one?”

            Winking at her, he pulled Alex’s plate towards him to take a bite. “You want to get a room?” Alex asked a bit too cheerfully. Not that she minded Vala flirting at Evan, but she certainly minded him going along with it, even if it was only in jest. What annoyed her most however was the fact that it annoyed her at all.

            “Nah, she’s all yours, Jackson,” Evan grinned, touching Alex’s leg casually with his foot before getting to his feet. “If you don’t need my help, I’ll be in our little room, drawing some more.” Reaching for his tray, he was just about to turn away from them, when an airman approached him. “Sir,” he saluted briefly.

            “At ease, Sergeant,” Evan said in a tone so casual, so used to authority, that it made Alex’s heart miss a beat. Would she ever get used to how easy it was for Evan to take charge like that? How naturally it came to him? “What is it?”

            “Sir, General Landry would like to see you and Doctor Lorne in his office.”

            Evan nodded curtly. “Thanks. We’ll be there.”

            “No minute of peace in this place.” Vala pushed her plate away and stood up.

            Raising her eyebrows at Vala, Alex put down her spoon and fork. “I thought you were bored out of your skull.”

            “Weird how these things coincide sometimes.”      

            “And you know you weren’t asked to join them, right?” Daniel said into his mug, trying, and failing to hide his grin.

 

The scowl on Landry’s face didn’t bode well. But then again, the man rarely did anything but scowl. After General O’Neill, every other leader of the SGC was bound to look grim. Not that O’Neill was naturally cheery, but O’Neill rarely seemed to take things too seriously.

            He was on the phone when Alex and Evan appeared in his doorway but motioned for them to take a seat anyway. “Yes, Jack, I agree. Well, nothing to be done. Right. I’ll let them know. Sit down, already,” He practically slammed the phone on the receiver and shook his head. “Well, the Germans finally released the body of the woman,” he said, pushing his pen across the desk.

            “It’s been, what, a week?” It didn’t seem too long to Alex. But then again, the woman had been a foreigner and killed by a foreigner. The face of the dying woman flashed before her eyes once again, but she pushed it away quickly.

            “A week, yes, and the President is desperate to have this whole mess cleaned up.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” It sounded like the President thought this attack as an inconvenience, not an international incident. Well, not just the President, but her government as well?

            “Well, they caught Mr Simon a couple of hours ago, but couldn’t get anything out of him. Yet. He claims not to know what’s going on, or anything about you.”

            “Big surprise there,” Evan muttered, taking a deep breath.

            “I agree. But that doesn’t really matter now.” Landry clicked his tongue and shook his head. “A theft been discovered at Area 51. Must have happened about the time you two were attacked.”

            Alex blinked, taken aback. “Excuse me?” So this whole thing was supposed to be a cover-up? A goose chase to draw the Air Force’s main attention away from its most important research facility?

“What was taken?”

Landry’s lips formed a smirk as he shook his head. “Blueprints of the 304.”

Alex’s heart plummeted. How could that have happened? Weren’t those better protected? Just because the main focus of the SGC had been on her and Evan for a couple of hours, someone had managed to sneak something that vital past the guards of Area 51? What was that supposed to say about the security for their families? She swallowed hard.

“How?!” Evan asked incredulously.

“The whole staff is under investigation of course, but three scientists managed to get away, some of them, apparently, with connections to Barton Corp.”

Evan scoffed. “So, what are we doing now?”

“For now, the thing will remain top secret. Even within the SGC and Homeworld Security. The President doesn’t want information of this theft to get out there. Wouldn’t go too well with our allies.”

“No kidding,” Alex muttered. Plans for the 304 meant also their methods of re-creating Asgard technology, and if that was no reason to be worried, then the fact that the Trust was still in the hands of the Goa’uld certainly was. No wonder the President wanted to keep this hushed up for as long as possible.

“So, for now, you two can go home, but there’ll still be a security detail in front of your house. Your families will remain under special protection for another week or two, but from what we can gather, this whole thing is over. The Trust kept us busy and that’s that.”

“That can’t be the end of it,” Alex said quietly, shaking her head. “There’s a dead body, there’s about a dozen lose ends on this.”

“I agree,” Landry nodded. “But the President wants things to be smoothed over for now. Wait for the plans to re-emerge in one form or the other. We just don’t have any more leads, but rest assured, as soon as we do, SG-1 will be on it.” That made things final. They’d just go back to Atlantis, leaving this whole mess untended to. Landy smirked. “Sorry, but that’s all I can say for now.”

Chapter Text

2006

It was like a countdown.

            One week until Daedalus would leave again.

            Seven days until their return to Pegasus.

            Really, it had only been a delay of a week, but it felt like so much longer. But at least they got to go home, to their house. At least they could see the sky when they got off work. Evan had taken to training young recruits, getting them ready to work alongside them in Pegasus, telling them what awaited them there, who the enemy was, what their weaknesses were, what the new men and women needed to look out for, while Alex did her best to introduce the scientists to their new work schedule and teach them a few basic commands in Ancient. That self-learn book she and the other archaeologists had devised over two years ago had been implemented a while ago, but the physicists, especially those fluent in Klingon, preferred using the interface which McKay and Zelenka had introduced. Well, they’d run into trouble soon enough. One of McKay’s hastily set-up programs would glitch and then they’d have to face McKay’s wrath. Luckily McKay wasn’t spiteful for long. He was much too preoccupied with boosting his own ego to remain angry at one single person for long. Of course, she didn’t tell them that.

            There were no news on Barton Corp, or their involvement with the Trust, or the theft at Area 51, except that the Hera Simon’s body had vanished on its way from Frankfurt to the US. Not really a comforting thought, but neither was the fact that a black van remained parked at the end of their road. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there’d been something General Landry hadn’t told them, but she didn’t dare bring it up. Evan didn’t talk about Javier anymore either.

            And so she checked that the cargo which had to be taken aboard Daedalus was complete, helped Daniel catalogue artefacts and was, in general, glad to know that when they got back from Atlantis at some point, this thing was bound to have cleared up. At least that was what she hoped. Evan didn’t quite share in her optimism, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the investigation, where it was going or what might happen next or dropped altogether. Corbin still wouldn’t speak, or that’s what he and Alex were told anyway.          

            Evan stood by the window and watched the black van leave. There wouldn’t be any need for them to be here in a few hours anyway. In a couple of days the security would be withdrawn from their families’ homes as well. He looked through the bag on their bed and at the clothes and painting utensils spread out on the blanket. How was that supposed to fit? When had he started accumulating so much stuff?

            But could he really abandon his watercolours and only take the acrylics with him? He’d already decided to leave the oils behind, because, seriously, who had time for oils these days? Or should he just take the one sketchbook? But what would he do if he wanted to draw something big? You can get paper in the Pegasus Galaxy. Well, yes, but not the kind of paper he wanted, forget about canvases.

            Well, he’d made do with ordinary sketching and watercolour paper before. So, why not now? Ruffling through his hair, he took a step back. “Alex?” he shouted down the staircase, but she didn’t respond.

            No use staring at the bag for now. He still needed to clean the dishes and take the trash out. He could just as well finish this or figure out a way of smuggling an additional bag on board later on.

 

Alex was still fast asleep. He had to force himself to keep walking and not stand in the doorway to watch her. She must still be drugged and that last mission was bound to be taking its toll now.

            Monsieur was lying on the blanket, his head on his paws. Like he was guarding her. He didn’t even know her, why was he so attached to her?

            Evan took one step towards the staircase, then walked back to look at Monsieur. Well, to look at Alex again, if he was honest with himself. Seeing her here, in his house, after such a long time, made something contract painfully in his chest. The previous night, after he’d seen her with that bleeding hand, all pale and shaken up, he just couldn’t bring himself to take her home and just leave her. Really, he shouldn’t be surprised. It was either be angry with her or fall for her head-over-heels. Neither was a good option. Maybe being friends could be a compromise. Yes, that was bound to work exceptionally well. But he just couldn’t face the alternative or the consequences in the workplace.

            If anything, she was partly his responsibility now, and not just as his girlfriend. She was a civilian, and they protected their civilians. That’s how he had to think of her now. A civilian under his protection, not someone he could love. Well, that would be near impossible. Her closeness, her drugged confession, had rattled him and made falling asleep without aching to have her in his arms, of kissing her, of pinning her body beneath him, impossible.

            He swallowed hard when she turned around. Her eyes were still tightly closed, her face relaxed and so soft, he could feel the urge to move in there and lie down next to her, wrap her in his arms and never let her go. But the implications were just too much. He couldn’t do that again. He couldn’t allow her in like that again. Not as long as he still felt the pain of leaving her.

            Back then, he’d thought that feeling would pass. Not straight away, but eventually. Well, it didn’t. Not until this day. And here she was. In his house. In his guest room. He’d taken her up there himself, pulled the cover over her body, after she’d fallen asleep just after lying down. Her hand had been grabbing his shirt even as her eyes fell closed and it had taken him all the control he could muster to pull away, or he’d kiss her awake again.

            His eyes were fixed on her lips, his mind racing.

            A car door slammed outside and Monsieur’s head jerked up. The neighbour whistled that familiar tune and Monsieur lay back down.

            It was enough to rip Evan out of his reverie. He practically ran down the stairs to make coffee.

 

His steps were light and he jumped over the last stair. “Alex?”

            She was sitting at the kitchen table, bent low over a sheet of paper.

            “You’re working?” She could do that all the way back to Atlantis.

            “Hm,” she said, turning a page.

            “What is it?” He leaned closer, a hand trailing down her back. The top secret stamp in the top right corner confirmed his suspicions. Those things weren’t supposed to leave SGC.

            “Just the report on Barton Corp. Again.” She leaned back with a sigh. This was seriously getting to her, and he couldn’t exactly say that he didn’t think about it constantly either. Whatever Landry had said, that the attack had been nothing but a cover-up for that theft at Area 51, he couldn’t forget that Barton was Ba’al and what Ba’al had done to them.

He pulled up the chair next to her and moved his hand up her arm. “Nothing we can do right now,” he said quietly.

She nodded. “Just… I know, it’s stupid.” Taking his left hand in hers, she started twisting the wedding band. The soft touch left a warm trail on his skin.

“No, it’s not. But there are so many people looking for him right now, they’re bound to find him.”

“Which one? The galaxy is pretty massive, you know?” Alex snorted, not looking up to meet his gaze. She was still staring at the ring. Nobody knew how many Ba’als were out there. The only person who might know was the original Ba’al, and who could say how many clones had made clones of themselves. And then there was that woman, Hera Simon, on which there’d been next to no information anywhere. And now that the body had vanished, it was highly unlikely they’d get a proper ID on her. That was, unless she was a female version of that same clone?

He shivered. The thought alone was a little more than disturbing. “Alex, we never really talked about-“

She shook her head. “Beckett said she wasn’t a clone.” Nora. Their daughter hadn’t been a clone, or at least Beckett didn’t think she was.

Evan pressed his lips together. “And it doesn’t really matter even if she was?” He could sense her tensing up, starting to pull away. He grabbed her hand and shook his head. “Don’t.”

“No, it wouldn’t matter. And… don’t you think we would’ve found out about that by now? They would’ve told us, had they found any trace of her, or any baby.”

Taking a deep breath, he traced his thumb over the back of her hand. “Yeah… I think so too.” O’Neill would’ve made sure of that. “But you can’t let this go either.” He nodded at the file, making Alex shrug.

“Can you?”

“No…” How should he, when they’d spent the better part of the past two weeks locked up because of it, and of course he’d thought of Nora more than once every hour. It was hard not to. He raised her hand to his lips and shook his head. “This’ll never go away.”

Alex blinked, fighting back the tears. “I’m so sorry.”

“What for? None of this is your fault.”

She bit her lip. “Well, no, but I can still say I’m sorry that we don’t have a kid. Not- not that I want to try it again,” she paused, hesitating and swallowing an addition to that statement, “but I know you’re a great dad. You’d be a great one again.”

She made him laugh despite himself and his cheeks grew hot. “Don’t get me wrong, I thought we both would be incredible at it and we were for a while.” The smile vanished from his lips. “But we’re doing alright now? Aren’t we?”

“Just the way you interacted with Ellen’s kids…”

“I have the uncle bonus. I’d never have that with my own kid.”

She swallowed hard, but he was just glad she was talking to him about Nora. After her death, Evan had almost been sure she’d never bring up the topic. Shaking his head, he drew her so close, she had to get up and sit on his lap. Her weight on his legs was just the thing he needed right now, just as he needed to feel the softness of her waist in his arms. “I’m just glad I still have you.” How things would have turned out had they never talked about Nora again, about losing her, about how the loss was ripping them apart, wasn’t hard to imagine. They would’ve broken up over it. And it had been a close call, Evan knew that now.

Alex reached up to touch his face, to trace the lines on his face. When they’d started appearing he couldn’t say, but they were there. He’d seen them in pictures, the thin ones around his eyes, the ones edged into his cheeks when he smiled. “I was thinking,” she began quietly, her blue eyes claiming his with their usual ease. But she didn’t proceed. Falling silent, tracing the contours of his face, she just looked down at him, her brow furrowed and the barely visible crows feet in the corners of her eyes.

“You thinking is usually a good thing. Go on.” He smiled up at her, allowing his hand to roam up and down her spine and explore the softness and the warmth of her. They didn’t have a whole lot of time left. He thought he knew where this was going, and the idea terrified him and excited him at the same time. What a strange thing to feel.

“I was thinking that maybe, after some time, we could…” She bit her lip and shook her head. “No, it’s a dumb idea.”

“I don’t believe a word of it. Come on.” He laughed now and ignored the itching in his fingers to open the top button of her dress.

With a sigh, she closed her eyes for a moment and threw her head back, staring up at the ceiling as though the courage to say what she needed to say could be found there. “Maybe, after some time, we could try… again?”

It wasn’t entirely unexpected after she’d just brought up the topic, but it still took him off-guard to hear her say it out loud. Like he’d suddenly stepped into emptiness. They’d agreed. They’d told their parents they wouldn’t try for another child. And it was insane. What it would do to them… He leaned his head against her chest and wrapped her in a tight embrace. Her heart was right beneath his ear, the rapid beating of it telling him how hard this question was for her. Was it a completely insane one? Were they crazy even thinking about it? And what about Nora? Nothing would bring their daughter back. And even if, and that thought tore at his heart more than he cared to admit, there turned out to be a hundred clones of their daughter out there, there would never be a replacement for the child they’d lost.

Closing his eyes when her fingers started gently brushing through his hair, he tried letting that thought sink in. She was thirty-five, he’d just turned thirty-six. They still had time to do this and do it right. But could they? After what had happened to them? He let his hand trail up her leg, imagining what it would be like to hold a baby again. To hold it and know it was theirs and that nothing could ever happen to it. And that’s where it stopped. That’s where that image of a warm bundle of helplessness and love blurred. Nobody could promise that what had happened to Nora wouldn’t happen again. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. Forget about the possibility of that other faceless and nameless child dying, which was bad enough, or being stolen again, which was unbearable. He would remain stationed on Atlantis. And what about Alex and the child? Would they be sent home as soon as a pregnancy became common knowledge? Three weeks to get to Earth. Three weeks to come back. That’s what it would take to see his wife and child again. But he’d have a child… he wouldn’t have it with him, he wouldn’t see Alex. “Maybe… one day… we’d have to talk to-“ Who? Who should they address? Doctor Weir? That was insane. Approaching Weir with their plans for a family.

She nodded. “Maybe is good enough. I just- I want you to be a dad.” Evan looked up at her, but that trace of doubt remained in her eyes as well. Did she want to be a mom? He tried swallowing, but his mouth was parched.

“That’s not a good enough reason,” he rasped, patting her knee.

“No. Let’s- let’s talk about it some other time?”

 

Their house already felt alien when they left it early next morning and the graveyard was all but deserted. They had to be at SGC at seven o’clock, which, right now, left them about an hour to spare. Alex was dead on her feet. Sleep hadn’t come to either of them. First, because they wouldn’t let it even come near, second because they had to reorganize both their bags to fit all the stuff they wanted to bring, including the ten bars of chocolate for Anna, Evan’s art supplies and the additional books, both non-fiction and novels, Alex wanted to bring. She’d only packed big ones, knowing that the next shipment of novels might take months, and then she was missing a couple of works on her field of studies and Anna had complained about that as well.

            The flowers had started to grow already. Despite the heat and drought, the first few bits of green could be seen sprouting from the earth which Evan had dug up. They both stood there, arms tightly around each other as they looked down on the grave. Their talk last night hadn’t led them to a decision. Not a real one. Only, that they would talk about it again. Staring at the stone, at the name and that little silvery star, made her chest ache and longing spread through her entire body. For Nora and for that feeling. That feeling of sadness and joy. But it would never be the same. Or would it?

            Looking at Evan, she saw the creases on his forehead, the tightness of his lips. He must be thinking along the same lines she was. Were they betraying their daughter just contemplating the thought of giving it another try? Of giving a family another shot, another chance?

            His nose twitched and he turned his head to look at her, a smile spreading across his face. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

            Yes, in about a year, when they’d get their next short holiday. Or, if the Gate Bridge was done, they might be here a bit sooner, maybe even for Christmas. Whatever happened, Nora would be waiting for them. She patted his chest and kissed the corner of his mouth. Whatever happened, Evan would be with her, and, really, what else could she demand of fate? She should count herself lucky to have him and a life and work that fulfilled her. Tempting Lady Fortune really wasn’t in the cards right now.

But how long could she wait? How long could they wait, before getting pregnant again would be a risk? Wasn’t it already? If they waited a year or two, and it didn’t happen straight away, then she’d be almost forty. The thought made her hear plummet. Was she really willing to risk that? She bit her lip and pulled him closer again, forcing herself to remember that what they had was good, and that talking about a family just wasn’t in the cards right now.

Chapter Text

2006

“Have you met McKay’s sister yet?”

            Evan was just starting on the weights, his muscles clearly pronounced under his thin shirt. Alex stood for a moment, watching him. There were times when she was happy just watching him like this. And why not? The way his biceps stood out as he pulled the bars to the front of his body, the way his whole torso was tense and firm, was a pleasing sight. And as he caught her eye and looked away again, she knew that he was aware of her gaze. “McKay has a sister?”

 “Jean Miller,” Alex explained, moving from the treadmill over to rowing machine. “Theoretical physicist, brilliant, and apparently on the verge of revolutionizing all our electricity needs. Met her, just now at lunch.”

“Sounds fab,” Evan huffed, concentrating hard on sitting upright as he pulled his arms forward and together. “Civilian?”

“Of course.”

Evan raised her eyebrows at her as she sat down and started on her exercises. “Okay. And what else?”

“She seems nice, but she’s been cooped up with McKay most of the time, so maybe no small wonder you haven’t met her yet.”

“Hm,” he grunted, stopping for a moment to look at her. “Anything interesting in that last data burst from Atlantis for you?” He’d been busy looking over mission files all day. That’s why he’d asked her to meet her here for a short work-out. They hadn’t really spoken all day. But they’d learned to do things together every day. Two years of working for the Stargate Program had allowed them to make up a schedule of their own.

Alex bit her lip. They’d entered comm range with Atlantis a couple of hours ago and yes, she had gotten messages. Some of them bearing exciting news, one of them a devastating one.

“Is everything okay?” he asked, looking up at the surveillance camera and starting again. They were alone in the small gym, but that didn’t mean they weren’t being watched. Alex followed his gaze and felt her stomach churn.

“I think so,” she muttered, her hands clenched around the bars in front of her. The motion wasn’t entirely unfamiliar, she’d done some rowing as a teenager, but it was different, doing it on a machine. But it was good having to concentrate on something new.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Evan stop in mid-motion and then let go of the bars altogether. “What?”

Alex sighed. She shouldn’t have said anything. She should have just pretended that she wasn’t worried. Not that Evan wouldn’t have been able to see straight through that.

“Alex.”

            Looking up at the camera, she mulled it over. With a shrug, she got up again, reached for her towel and her water bottle and gave Evan a significant look. Screw working out. “Anna found something that might be interesting. When we get back my team’s going to Athos. Anna already cleared it with Teyla. Apparently there hasn’t been any Wraith Activity on that planet since that last calling. There used to be an Ancient Outpost there once, and Anna thinks there might be some interesting things there. Old, broken devices probably, but there might be other things. Artefacts, something fun for us nerds.” The towel was too soft as she rubbed it over her face. She’d never been a fan of fabric softener, or putting fabrics in the drier, but she’d get used to it again.

            Evan took a couple of gulps from his own bottle and nodded at her. The last time they’d travelled from Earth to Atlantis, they’d both been tense, not knowing what awaited them and terrified of the battle to come. But that journey had only taken four days. Nothing compared to the twenty-one they had to face this time. That Gate Bridge really couldn’t come quickly enough. Especially now.

            He walked close by her side, their arms almost touching, their fingers brushing up against each other. Hand-holding was no option here. They were both on duty and life on the Daedalus was stricter than life on Atlantis, or even under Cheyenne Mountain. There wasn’t as much room and people valued professionalism in these close quarters. But Evan sensed that something was off, so he didn’t mind pushing the boundaries a little.

            A technician was busy at work in the elevator, apparently doing a quick check of the systems. These people must be bored out of their minds as well and she didn’t pay them any attention as she worked on the console, every now and again glancing down on her tablet. Evan’s hand closed around hers for a moment and his quizzical gaze made her stomach tighten.

            She shook her head and focused on the technician’s tablet instead, at the green background and the white tiles that needed to be sorted. She grinned and straightened the glasses on her nose.

“You have a seven of clubs right there,” Evan muttered, pointing at the tablet. “And really, don’t let anybody else see you’re playing solitaire. Just hide it a bit better, okay?”

The technician, a really young woman with short dark hair and a tiny nose, looked almost frightened at being addressed by him, but she nodded curtly and turned to face the console again, her cheeks bright red. This must be her first trip, Alex guessed. Lightly slapping Evan’s arm, she stepped into the corridor as soon as the elevator doors opened again and ignored the smug smile on Evan’s face. “Evil,” she muttered, hurrying to get to their door, where they’d finally have some privacy.

“So?” He asked as soon as the door closed behind them and throwing the towel into the small laundry basket. “Just that mission to Athos that has you worried? Doesn’t sound like you.”

Alex swallowed hard. This wasn’t going to be easy. She looked at the small desk and her laptop. “Sit down,” she said quietly. She heard him move behind her and sit down on the bed. The plastic rustled softly as he emptied his water bottle. Strangely enough the sound calmed her down, when she should be freaking out about having to tell Evan about the email.

Sitting down next to him, she handed him the laptop with the message open. Watching him reading, his eyes darting from left to right, his mouth set, was probably worse than reading the message herself. “Who’s Russel Chapman?” he asked. “IOA?”

“Yes. UK representative.”

Evan read the message again, then closed the laptop. “Huh…” he said, falling quiet for a moment. The fact that he wasn’t looking at her, that he was staring down on his trainers, told her all she needed to know. He was just as terrified as she was. “They want you back on Earth.” No question. Just a statement.

“Looks like it.”

The unhappy laugh made the hair on her neck stand on end. “Well, that’s convenient, we just left. What a waste of resources.” He leaned forward, ruffling his hair.

“Well, yes…”

“What are you going to do?”

Alex huffed. “Refuse? The only problem is that I don’t work for the SGC anymore, but for the IOA… and since I’m English, and apparently the EU want to start sending their own team through the Gate…” Her heart sank watching him. Signing up with the IOA had to happen, because they were in charge of the expedition. She was not part of the US military and therefore she had to switch contracts. The drop in pay had been something she’d been more than willing to accept, since there really wasn’t anywhere in Pegasus to spend Earth money, but the fact that her own government had now direct control over where she worked, wasn’t something she had anticipated.

“Damn it…” Evan wiped his brow and shook his head. “No way they’re sending me back as well.” And he didn’t want to go back straight away. And really, neither did she. Life on Atlantis was good for them, it had done them good.

“I’ll talk to Doctor Weir first thing,” Alex said, staring at the back of his head, “and if she can’t help, I’ll apply for American citizenship. I should be eligible by now, right?” The moment she’d opened the email, she’d felt like the floor had collapsed beneath her, like the small window to the blurred lines of white and blue outside had broken and sucked her outside.

He looked at her over his shoulder then. “You sure that’ll do it?” His eyes were darker in the dim light of their quarters and the doubt she saw in them mirrored her own.

Alex shrugged. “Might take a while, but I really can’t think of anything else.” She wasn’t vital to the Atlantis expedition, she knew that. There were other archaeologists there, and she was familiar with the SGC. Why the IOA had chosen her was obvious, but the injustice of it made her sick. “I’m sorry.”

With a scoff, he sat up and wrapped her in his arms. His skin was cool from the dried sweat and the shirt was still damp. She didn’t care. Her skin must be just as sticky as his. “It’ll be okay,” he muttered against he skin. “We beat the system once before, didn’t we?”

Yes, they had, but back then circumstances had been different. “I could always join the Air Force,” she attempted to joke.

His laugh hit her skin in short bursts as he chuckled. “You’re too old for that, Mrs Lorne.”

“Doctor Lorne,” she said, shaking her head and leaning back. She still liked the name. When they were off-world and wearing a wedding band was impossible, this was the only outward sign of who she was, of who they were. Husband and wife. For four years now, though their papers told a different story. “Maybe Oliver is going to have massive objections to me leaving.”

“You bet he will. So will Colonel Sheppard. You saved his life once, remember?”

“Absolutely,” Alex said quietly and shook her head. His eyes were so intense, so close to hers. “That splinter in his finger was brutal.”

“Could’ve killed him. And McKay had fainted.”

“Yes, that man can’t see blood.”

They just stared at each other. She couldn’t leave. Not now, not ever. It was just out of the question. “The IOA could fire me, if I don’t agree.” And then where would she be? She wouldn’t be allowed to remain on Atlantis then.

He nodded. “Let’s talk to Doctor Weir,” he whispered, tracing her jaw with the tip of his thumb. Evan just couldn’t imagine what life on Atlantis would be without her. It was one thing being stationed somewhere new or being off-world for a couple of days. They’d built a sort of life there, had made friends, had become familiar with their quarters and with each other in a foreign environment. Swallowing hard, he focused on the way her skin felt under his fingers. Still so smooth, still so perfect. Just like her lips. A bit too dry, perhaps, but perfect. Beating the system. That’s what they had to do. It couldn’t be too hard, could it? With colleagues like theirs? And the work she was doing there was important. He leaned in, gently touching his lips to hers. What happened next was out of his hands, but he could show her how much he wanted her to stay. Not that she didn’t already know that. What things would be like if she did get pregnant and had to leave, he couldn’t say, but at this instance, her having to leave wouldn’t be his fault.

She returned his kiss hesitantly, like she always did at first. She was a bit more reserved at first. Always. Like she was surprised that he was kissing her, that his mouth was on hers, gently begging for her lips to part. And then she became more confident, grabbing his shirt, pulling him closer. Her breath quickened at the same moment his hand slipped under her shirt and gently moved up to unclasp her bra, cup one of her breasts and stroke his thumb over the nipple. It felt so right in his hand and after years he was still surprised at how well it fit into his palm, how easy it was for him to get her to respond to him in this way. To get her to wrap her arms around him, pull him closer, brush her hand through his hair and greedily pull at his shirt, while her kiss claimed him. He took care to remove her glasses and put them on the nightstand before anything happened to them. It was just so damn hard to get a replacement when you were in another galaxy.

“Not what I had in mind, when we went in here,” she breathed, when they parted for a second to remove their shirts. The pieces of clothing landed unceremoniously on the floor.

“Ha!” Evan pushed her down, grabbed her wrists and pulled them over her head. “Do you even believe that yourself?”

She grinned up at him, her bottom lip between her teeth. His beautiful wife. The reason he’d nearly lost his mind several times over, but he still wouldn’t let her go. Even if she had to leave, this wouldn’t change. He’d always want her. Like this, her body pressed against his, her hips buckling encouragingly against his. He’d always want her witty remarks and her enthusiasm. Her courage. He needed her.           

“Come on, Major, let’s stop talking,” she said, faking an American accent, making him laugh, despite himself.

“Hey!” she laughed, her arms struggling ever so slightly against his hold of them. “You’re making fun of me.”

“You’re making fun of me, Doc,” he laughed, moving into her again, kissing her, wanting desperately to feel her teeth on his bottom lip. And there it was. Grinning into the kiss, he released her and put his arm under her head to have her closer. Her leg wrapped around his hips, forcing him to turn over and lie on his back, his mouth was claimed by hers before he knew it. But even before she straddled him, he felt that his pants were too tight. She got him to this point far too easily and far too quickly. It was just how things were with them, and he’d never thought he’d still want her like this after years of being so familiar with her.

The rest of their clothes joined the shirts quickly enough, their shoes hitting the floor with soft thuds, before she was on top of him again, her nipple between his lips, his right hand gliding up her back, while his left hand was exploring the familiar, hotness between her legs, as she reached for the nightstand to grab one of the small square packages. She paused just for a brief moment, staring into his eyes, already breathless. One look, one question. He nodded. Yes, he hadn’t changed his mind, especially not now. Not now that they didn’t know what was going to happen to them.

Now was just not the right time. She nodded in turn and ripped the plastic open.

 

His head was nestled against her shoulder, his hand on her heaving chest. “You know,” he said, his breath hot against her skin as that incredible smell of him enveloped her. “I was planning this crazy romantic dinner in Trier.”

            She would’ve laughed, hadn’t it been for the sad look in his eyes. His lashes were so long, she could almost envy him. “You did?”

            “Yep… I haven’t cooked for you in a while.”

            “Not true, you cooked all the time when we were home.”

            “Yeah, but nothing nice. I mean, on our honeymoon I wanted to make something nice. And I never did that.”

            “Should we really call that a honeymoon?”

            Evan sighed and pulled her closer, his index circling her belly button. The stretch marks were still there, always would be, a constant reminder of Larsa and of Nora, but he left those alone. He always did. “I don’t know… can you have a honeymoon if there was no real wedding?”

            “I never thought you wanted one.”

            “Well, I did. When we first met, but things just overtook us and it was fine and I’m still glad we got married, officially married, when we did, but… well.” He shrugged. “Seeing those wedding pictures of Ellen and Roger, of my parents… “

            She grabbed his hand. “What are you saying? You want to do it again?”

            “No,” he rested his chin on her shoulder and kissed her cheek. “No, things are perfect the way they are right now. I was just thinking, maybe we just didn’t deserve a honeymoon. You know, without inviting three billion people and spending a trillion dollars first.”

            “Maybe. But we deserved a holiday, wouldn’t you agree?”

            Evan scoffed and nodded. “Well… we had that drive from Frankfurt to Siegen and that hike? That’s something?”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 9

2006

Evan was leaning against a pillar, looking out over the ocean. At the bluish green of the water, the rippling glare of the sunlight on it, the way the city beneath them looked almost pink in the setting sun. Somewhere behind him in the mess hall, the laughter of Sheppard and his team rang out to him. A second McKay had turned up through the McKay-siblings’ experiment. Really, the weirdest things happened in this place, without too many people losing their heads over it.  Not that he cared. Not right now. Two McKays could only keep each other busy and annoy fewer people. Evan sighed. No, he was being unfair. McKay was an okay guy, really. If you took care not to take in too much of him at once.

            After that meeting with Weir, Alex had gone back to her lab, while he had to introduce the new marines to their new surroundings. Work had claimed them as soon as they landed again. Not that he was surprised, and he was glad to have something to do again. He only wished there was something he could do to help Alex.

            From the corner of his eye he watched Doctor Beckett walk into the mess hall and take a short look and then, after a short contemplation walk towards him. “Not in the mood for dinner, Major Lorne?”

            Shaking his head, Evan scratched his cheek. “Not really. Just grabbed a cup of coffee.”

            “Night shift?”

            Evan shrugged and nodded. He hadn’t really slept, but coffee would have to do. It usually did the job just fine. “You?”

            “Of sorts, I still have some work to do.” Beckett leaned against the railing next to him. “Which is why I’ve come to talk to you, actually.”

            “Oh?” Evan raised his eyebrows at him. “Something wrong?”

            “I’d have asked you to come see me officially if there was, right?”

            “Probably. Though I have to admit this is a bit weird. Unusual?”

            Beckett pulled a face. The man was okay, really, and Evan hadn’t just grown used to him. He’d grown to like him. Beckett might appear a bit chaotic in the field, but he was competent and funny if he wanted to be. “This is off the record, I’m not even sure I’m supposed to tell you.”

            “Huh.” Now that sounded ominous, and the way Beckett didn’t look at him, but kept his eyes fixed on McKay Number Two, made Evan’s insides churn. “Anything I can help you with?”

            “No… but the Air Force sent some genetic material for me to analyse along on the Daedalus.”

There it was again. Just when Evan thought this case was more or less closed, it opened up again. “Tissue sample?” Evan asked, rubbing his temple. “Of what?” That last word stung just hearing it.

“They wouldn’t say, but that alone made me think I should probably let you know. Just in case.”

Evan nodded. “Thanks,” he said hoarsely. “Do you think it could be… her?”

“Can’t be sure, Major,” Beckett said quietly, almost whispering. “I haven’t come around to do a proper analysis. The Air Force just doesn’t do this normally, and it only makes sense that it may have something to do with your daughter, since-“ he broke off and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Wish I had better news for you.”

“There’s no such thing as good news about our daughter.” He swallowed hard and shrugged, fighting back the urge to storm off there and then. Taking a deep breath, he wiped his hand over his forehead. By now they should be allowed to move on, but that would never happen. At least that’s what he was close to believing by now. “You know,” he muttered, taking another deep breath, “We were talking about trying again. Maybe… but.” He bit his lip and shook his head. “There’s- every time I think we can move on, something else turns up.”

Why was he even telling Beckett? If anything he should be consulting with Doctor Heightmeyer about this. She asked about Nora on a regular basis, and he usually answered curtly, defensively. He knew it wasn’t healthy… but Beckett… he’d been there for the whole thing. And Beckett had almost become a friend these past few months. Almost. Or maybe Evan had just been glad to spot another familiar face in this mass of strangers. Anyway, talking to Beckett didn’t feel wrong, and that had to mean something.

“I’m not a dad, Major,” Beckett said, “but you know, keeping on living doesn’t mean you forget the person you lost.”

“Yes, well…” Were they being cowards? Or just too cautious? The only thing he knew was that he wasn’t ready for this yet. Well, they hadn’t been ready for Nora either, but that had been different. Nora had just… happened. And they’d dealt with it as best they could. With near-devastating results. “That’s not really in the cards at the moment. Alex might have to go back to Earth.”

“That European team at the SGC?” Beckett nodded. “I heard they wanted to form one. They asked Doctor Chenot to go back as well. He told me earlier today. But he’s looking forward to it.”

“What’s Chenot’s job here?”

“Astrophysicist. Doesn’t get along too well with Rodney, can you imagine?” The smirk on Beckett’s face would’ve made Evan laugh, hadn’t he felt sick to his stomach.

“Alex doesn’t want to go,” Evan said, “But we had a short talk with Doctor Weir this morning. We’ll just keep the wheels of bureaucracy working for as long as we can.”

“And then? Are you going to request to be transferred back?

Evan huffed and shook his head. “No chance it’ll work. I mean, I’m sure there must be a billion people hoping to get this job, but- well. I’m stationed here and, to be frank, I’m good at what I’m doing here.” A transfer might be granted eventually, though. Who could say? They’d just be back at the SGC, carry on life like they always had. Would that be so bad? “We’ll see what happens.”

 

Her head was pounding. And the bright light from her desk wasn’t helping. Really, reading from paper was so much more comfortable. How could she have ever wished for reports and books to be fully digitized? This was crazy. Well, it was easier to just carry that tablet, but books, real books, were just easier to read.

            Alex let the pen fall and shook out her hand. Her eyes were burning. High time to call it a night. Anna had left the neighbouring lab an hour ago to meet Oliver at the gym. Why she’d taken one of the bars of chocolate, or why she’d left this late, Anna hadn’t said, but Alex could guess. Anna had been talking non-stop about Oliver since Alex had stepped into the office, and Alex had been too happy to listen to the constant chatter rather than let her mind dwell on the idea that she might have to leave soon. Weir had set the date for their departure for Athos so, that she wouldn’t be here for the next databurst. Her application for American citizenship would go out, along with Weir’s request for letting Alex stay here.

            One look at her watch told her, that it was already past midnight. No wonder she was dead on her feet. No wonder she couldn’t cram any more information from recent mission reports into her brain. She’d tried to stay up-to-date with goings-on in the Milky Way, but the way things were looking, she’d be going back there, so she might as well familiarize herself with the news. And she had to admit, the threat the Ori posed was even more disturbing after what she’d read. Why was it that things never, never calmed down enough for them all to take a really deep breath and just keep exploring without the constant threat of replicating, God-impersonating or live-sucking aliens?

            Taking off her glasses and the headphones, Alex rubbed her eyes and sent the message with he attached file to Chuck, so he’d send it out with the next data burst. Her application for American citizenship should’ve been easier to fill out. But it really hadn’t been. For one, she had to start the whole process digitally, with a special request to the Air Force to process the papers, since she couldn’t very well do that from here, but that wasn’t the only reason. She hadn’t been to the UK in a long time, she hadn’t called that place home in over a decade, but still. Thinking about giving up something that tied her to her mother and brother, was harder than she would’ve thought, even if it was such an unimportant thing as a passport. The problem was that in this case it wasn’t just about a passport or about which flag was on her uniform. This was about where she would be working from now on. And the American flag would give her the assurance that at least she could stay here for as long as Evan did.

            Alex got up and turned off the lights. Outside in the corridor she watched two soldiers walk past. She remembered them from her last couple of weeks back at the SGC. They’d been new and had just been assigned to SG-teams, before they were sent out here. But they too appeared to have become more than familiar with this city. They nodded at her in greeting and kept walking through the empty corridors.

            Evan was on the night shift, probably overseeing the city’s security from the control room and he wouldn’t be in their quarters for another couple of hours. In all likelihood, she wouldn’t see him until lunch the next day. And it wasn’t as though she couldn’t survive without him, or not fall asleep without his body next to hers, she was just terrified of what might happen to them as a couple if they were separated by billions of lightyears for an indefinite time period.

            Looking up at one of the countless security cameras, she smiled, just for the off-chance of him seeing her. If he didn’t she’d at least shown the person watching the dozens of screens that they weren’t completely forgotten.

 

Alex was just leaving her lab. God, he really needed to talk to her, tell her what Beckett had said. Or should he? What if that tissue sample wasn’t Nora’s? And what if it was? What if it was and they never found out where it came from? And what if they had found a clone? What if they had, and never said so? His insides churned just thinking about it. He couldn’t believe he almost hoped they hadn’t found her. Did that make him a terrible person? Probably.

She’d depart for Athos in two days with Murdoch and he’d better talk to her before then. The mission itself had been postponed for as long as it took Halling to return from a trading trip and for Alex to get back to Atlantis. Murdoch’s team would just do a quick recon, figure out if there really was anything worth studying in those ruins. Not a big mission, or a long one, but she’d be gone for a couple of days. That had happened less frequently, since they’d come here to Pegasus. Archaeology wasn’t this expedition’s main priority. Probably because Jackson was less involved here

            She looked up at the camera with a half-hearted smile, making Evan grin despite his dark thoughts. He almost regretted not asking Doctor Weir to allow Alex to remain on his team. Of course working in such close proximity with his wife all the time was probably a terrible idea, but he rather missed the work she did. It was almost like meditating, clearing away dirt like that, but then there was that thrill on her face when she discovered a new shard or another object which he would simply have described as trash.

            Maybe, one of these days, he’d get to go off-world with her again, assisting her on another dig. But then again, he’d be okay for Murdoch’s team to accompany his own team on another mission. Maybe. If Alex wasn’t called back before then.

            “Wow!” The technician to his right exclaimed, making Evan whirl around, the image of Alex walking towards the transport all but forgotten.

“What is it?” Evan asked, eyes darting to the monitor in front of the technician, who just turned it off before Evan could see anything.

The young woman was blushing dark red. She was new. The one he and Alex had met on the Daedalus. She must be helping out down here. And he really needed to learn her name.

“What?” Evan asked, but the woman shook her head.

“Nothing, Major.”

Evan scoffed, turned the monitor back on and then off again, after just a brief look. “Good call. Let’s give them some privacy.” He cleared his head.

“Maybe we should think about putting up signs reminding people of the cameras?”

Letting out a brief laugh, Evan shook his head. Murdoch should know where the cameras were, but apparently Anna Schäfer’s company had driven that clear out of his mind. “Maybe. Just forget what you saw Lieutenant.”

 

Chapter Text

2006

They emerged from the early evening on Atlantis into mid-morning of Athos and Alex cloaked the Jumper as soon as they passed through the event-horizon on the other side. She was the only one with the ATA gene on Oliver’s team, and she was good enough at flying this thing, but she’d never be as good a pilot as the Air Force pilots were. Luckily these things were intuitive enough for her to master the basics.

            Oliver was sitting in the passenger seat, going over the scans in front of them as she steered the ship towards the ruins of the Ancient Outpost. She’d never been here. Nobody, apart from the initial team who’d come through the Gate here looking for shelter, had. At least not from their expedition. Some Athosians had returned at some point, to collect mementoes and supplies which they’d left behind, but the camp lay derelict and abandoned at their feet, about two hours’ walk away from the ruins they were heading for. Luckily the distance could be covered quickly enough by Jumper.

            Oliver Murdoch had grown into his role as team leader quite quickly. Most people on Atlantis did. The military personnel wasn’t led by a General and the new orders from Washington or any other military board of leaders only arrived here with significant delay. It made things a lot easier for most people to grow into their roles. At least that was Alex’s opinion. Evan would probably tell a completely different story. About survival and team-play. Not that he was wrong. It was just a different perspective on the same phenomenon.

            “I can’t see anything special, to be honest,” Oliver said, looking over his shoulder at Doctor de Clare and Lieutenant Fisherman. “Can you tell me anything interesting, Lieutenant?”

            De Clare shrugged, looking at his laptop and the readouts there. He was the oldest member of McKay’s science team, about fifty, and he’d gladly joined the Atlantis expedition the moment Weir had offered him the position. He was no brilliant scientist, but he was a thorough one, and most reliable. Even McKay respected him for that, or so Alex had heard tell. He accompanied them on a mission every once in a while, and his calming presence was more than welcome here. Fisherman was still a bit jittery. He’d come here about half a year ago, and this had been his first assignment in the Stargate Program.

“Not really. No energy signatures of any kind. Maybe we should just land and take a look around?” De Clare seemed enthusiastic, the way he usually did, when a walk in the woods was at hand. He loved hiking, and when he heard about where Alex and Evan had been for their interrupted honeymoon, he'd immediately started talking about all the magnificent hikes he’d been on.

“That’s the plan,” Alex said, starting to set down in a wide open space. Evan would probably have been able to land the Jumper closer to the first few ruins, but she was still a bit insecure about the size of the ship and finding a good spot. Luckily nobody complained.

“Should be close enough.”

Halling hadn’t said a word from the moment they stepped into the Jumper. Since Teyla was preoccupied in Atlantis, Halling had been asked to accompany them to Athos. He, like most Athosians, hadn’t been here in a while and returning must be painful. Their home had been wiped out by the Wraith, and from what Alex had heard, it was the Athosians’ firm belief that entering the Ancient City would bring the Wraith down on them, and Halling had always been more cautious about folk tales and beliefs which had been passed down for generations than Teyla.

Alex set down the Jumper. “Thank you for accompanying us,” she said, when the ramp at the back of the Jumper had been opened. Her backpack wasn’t as heavy as it used to be, since she only had to carry her tablet in addition to her tools. That had to be the one most important point in favour to electronics.

Halling looked at her, his face set. “Teyla asked me to. And she assured me you value spiritual beliefs.” He looked over his shoulder at the two soldiers and the other scientist, who were already outside, securing their guns. And this was what this was about: documenting what the Athosians believed in, so it would never be forgotten.

Forcing a smile, Alex nodded. “I don’t belief in anything, to be honest,” she said. Not anymore. She couldn’t bring herself to even think about believing in a higher power. “But I study religions and belief systems, yes. And I assure you, that my colleagues will respect whichever boundaries you set.” Oliver would make sure of that. She’d been working with him long enough to know that he, unlike that Colonel with whom they’d been in Gizeh, wouldn’t break open an ancient jar just to find out what was inside.

The nod from Halling was all she needed right now. Strapping her own P-90 to her chest, she followed Oliver and the others outside. She had to admit, using a Jumper to get to destinations on another planet, was easier than having to walk everywhere all the time. The Ancients surely knew a thing or two about convenience and comfort.

Halling was taking the lead and Alex was walking next to him, doing her best to ignore Fisherman’s attempts to get de Clare to talk about football. De Clare had played as a youngster and still refused to call the sport soccer. Not that Alex couldn’t understand him. Football would never be soccer to her.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” de Clare muttered behind her. She’d watched the final game of the world cup along with a couple of other Europeans and she had to admit she’d been grateful when England had been kicked out in the quarter final. This excitement at the end of a tournament like that was unbearable. And de Clare had been as white as a sheet the whole time. Getting recordings of games like these was almost as devastating as watching the thing in real-time.

“Wouldn’t you say that re-introducing the golden goal would make things a lot more exciting?” Fisherman insisted.

“The penalty shoot-out was plenty exciting for me, thank you.” De Clare said drily and Alex caught Oliver’s grin.

“Let him be, Fisherman, this whole ordeal was heart-breaking enough as it was,” he said. Especially so, since the only Italian member of the expedition had left to go home the week before the world-cup final, and there’d been nobody to celebrate the end of the world-cup with.

“What’s football?” Halling asked.

“It’s soccer,” Fisherman and Oliver said in unison, making Alex shake her head.

“It’s football,” Alex shook her head. Yes, that was certainly going to make things difficult if and when her application came through. Did she have to change her vocabulary along with the flag on her arm? No, that would’ve been too much to ask. “And it’s a very popular game on Earth and a lot of nations have very good players,” she grinned at Oliver, who just rolled his eyes. “And in some countries it’s called soccer, in others it’s called football, but the Americans have a really weird take on that term.”

“You’re not a linguist, so please stop elaborating,” Fisherman sighed, making Alex grin.

“Are you saying a girl can’t talk about sports, Fisherman?”

            Fisherman blanched and stared at her, his mouth wide open.

            “Well?” Oliver turned around and looked at him inquiringly, walking backwards. “Are you being a sexist jerk?”

            “No!” Fisherman exclaimed. “My sister plays soccer like a pro! Just saying…”

            “Saying what exactly?”

            Alex bit her lip. She knew she’d brought Fisherman into a tight squeeze and the young Lieutenant was anything but a sexist jerk, really. But he was terrified of what Evan, her husband and his superior officer would say, if he got wind an accusation like this.

            “Just saying that the argument about the term is bullshit, Sir.”

            “Can we live with that, Alex?”

            “I guess we can,” she said, hurrying up to catch up with Halling. “So,” she said, looking back at Oliver and Fisherman who were talking quietly amongst themselves, “I read a couple of things about Athos,” she began as they were walking along the first row of torn-down walls, the very existence of which suggested a different period than the tall metal tower several hundred feet ahead of them. “But what can you tell me?”

            Halling raised an eyebrow. “You’ve read a couple of things?” he echoed.

            “Teyla helped expanding the data base a couple of years ago,” she explained. “But I guess she just became too busy and sort of stopped? Also, it’s always more educating to hear from someone who is really familiar with the history of a place. Who better to ask than you?”

 

He still hadn’t talked to her. Somehow bringing this up right now was hard. Harder than he would’ve thought possible. Well, no, it wasn’t that he hadn’t talked to her, he had, he just hadn’t told her about what Beckett had said, and since Beckett hadn’t approached him again, he could only hope that it’d been false alarm. If it wasn’t, she’d be mad at him. And for good reason.

            He watched the Gate shut down behind them and nodded at Chuck. Menard and Woeste had both come with him to Pegasus and they, along with the newest addition, a young Turkish officer, were on their way off-world. Just a standard recon to an unusual place. On most worlds he’d been to, the Stargate was located several clicks away from the nearest settlement at least, which wasn’t the stupidest thing to do. Building a town around a Stargate meant bringing everybody close-by in danger of being killed by the unstable vortex jumping out of the event horizon as the wormhole was formed. But who was he to judge?

            Evan looked at his team. Lieutenant Asim Nabi had joined their team after his own arrival in Pegasus, but he’d been here longer than the rest of the team. He was still the new guy in some ways however. Evan, Woeste and Menard had known each other for years and of course that had made it harder on Nabi. But Nabi was a good guy, and more than reliable in battle. And he looked more comfortable in their team now than he had in the beginning. Still, Evan wished Alex were still here. She would’ve loved to explore the world they were about to embark on.

            The wormhole behind them engaged and the event horizon started shimmering behind the see-through shield. “Let’s move out,” Evan said, straightening his back before stepping through the deep blue.

They’d been in brief contact with the people of this world, and things looked safe enough. Still, he was glad he’d left a message for Alex in their quarters. It was lying on her pillow, and the note she’d left him was still on his night-stand. Just in case anything ever happened to either of them, they’d started this tradition of leaving each other messages in their quarters. Life was too fickle to just leave without the chance of leaving a last goodbye. Upon returning, they usually ripped up the letters and then wrote a new one for the next mission, because there was always something else to say, something else to add, though in general his messages to her hadn’t changed that much. Only that this time he’d left a confession.

 

“What do you want to know, Doctor?”

            “Hm…” Alex tapped her chin and looked up at the columns they were passing now on the way to the centre of the abandoned ruins. She should be taking notes, she knew, but there really was no way to do that right now. “Do you mind if I use my camera to record your voice while we talk?”

            Halling shook his head. “Go ahead.”

            “Alright,” Alex muttered, setting the small hand-held camera to record. She’d have to transcribe what Halling was saying later on. She trained the camera on the massive metal tower in the centre of the ruins. It was the only structure which looked more or less intact outwardly. That was, if you ignored the plants crawling up its sides. “Teyla wrote that the Athosians believe entering the city would bring the Wraith here?”

            “Yes,” Halling said quietly, while de Clare started walking around with his sensor. “This place did not bring luck to our people. The Wraith culled on us several times, but the biggest holocaust happened here, many, many generations ago.” He cleared his throat and approached the tower. Would they enter? Or would they stay away from it? She wished she could go inside. The structure itself looked Lantean, alright, but unlike the spires of Atlantis, only the outside appeared to be clad in metal. Here and there bits of metal had broken away from the spire and she spotted a few stretches of stone wall underneath. “The Ancestors did not protect them and many believe that allowing the Wraith to destroy the civilization we built in the centre of the city, was because we dared to build on top of their buildings.” Halling shrugged and Alex took care not to have him in the picture. He hadn’t agreed to that. “Teyla spoke of caves where you sought refuge from the Wraith?”

            “Yes.” Halling’s eyes were trained on the central spire, though his lips set into a firm line. “Yes, they lead underneath that tower. We used to hide there. Many, many generations did. Sometimes for days on end. Would you like to see the drawings there?”

            Alex nodded. “If you don’t mind?”

            “Of course. But we cannot enter the tower.”

            She’d almost expected him to say that. “You know,” she said, “on Earth there’s a hill on which some monks built a monastery about a thousand years ago. They worship and live there, have done for over a millennium.”

            “What are you saying, Doctor?” Halling asked, starting off to their right, past more overgrown rubble and half-buried walls. If there was anything to salvage, then the Athosians must have already taken it from the surface at least. But this place was sacred to them, and indeed, it did feel like a graveyard. Like it had been plundered and at the same time left intact. A few Ancient building structures were still standing, but the additions by Athosians had made, were mostly gone. Like they wanted desperately to get rid of the traces of their sacrilege. She couldn’t help but wonder what Evan would make of these ruins. He’d surely love to draw them at some point. Over the past year he’d become almost obsessed with the architecture of Atlantis, painting it from different angles, at different times of day. What he’d do with all these pieces of art one day, was a question she never posed.

            “That place is called Athos as well,” she said, “It’s a place in Greece. We believe the Ancients played a big part in inspiring ancient Greek culture, or even in sowing the seeds of their culture. Many of the old languages on Earth originate from Ancient.”

            “And you believe there might be a connection between that place and our world?” Halling asked, with a raised eyebrow at him.

            Alex shrugged. “Why not? I mean, of course the Ancients left this galaxy a long, long time ago, but we know that some Ancients who ascended came back at some point to influence a culture here or there.” Who could tell, really? But maybe they’d find a clue or two concerning that connection here?

            They were close to one of the massive stone walls, part of a massive hill stretching up into the sky and which trailed along one side of the city. They were in front a partly hidden mine shaft. Really, if Halling hadn’t been heading that way, she never would’ve found it. “Is that it?” she asked, taking out her flashlight. The rest of her team were still walking through the ruins, but Oliver had watched them walk off. He waved at her briefly to acknowledge her. There wasn’t a whole lot the others could do in those catacombs, she knew.

            Halling nodded. “This place was a sanctuary to us very many times. Sometimes for days. The drawings in there tell our story like nothing else. There’s a mechanism on the inside, which seals the entrance.”

            “Time to get to work, then.” She smiled at him encouragingly. God, she hoped she could actually finish the work she was starting here. She really didn’t want to abandon her work like this.

 

Nabi was downright smitten with the village-elder. Evan could tell from the way he gazed at her, but he didn’t comment. Ronda was pretty, that much was certain, and she was friendly. She led them through their village, her dark hair trailing behind her like a veil.

            “We were happy to receive your message,” she said, leading them through a heavily populated street with shops on either side. The street was paved and in an almost perfect condition. Evan couldn’t help but wonder where these peoples’ wealth came from. The clothes of everybody they passed were clean and there weren’t any patches on any piece of cloth to cover up a tear. From experience he knew how hard it was to keep clothes in such a good state of repair. He remembered Alex’s curses at trying to sew him a new shirt, and her raw hands after a day spent at doing the laundry.

            “You seem to be magnificent tradespeople,” Woeste said appreciatively.

            Suck-up, Evan thought, following Ronda towards the other end of the road and the magnificent stone structure towering over the rest of the houses of town, which was encircled by a massive wall of dark-grey stone. Really unusual, especially here in the Pegasus galaxy, where people needed to run and hide fairly quickly all the time. The walls should’ve given him a sense of security, but he couldn’t help but throw a cautious glance at Nabi. He needed all of them alert.

            “We trade with many worlds,” Ronda said smiling. “Let us eat and discuss how our two people can enter a mutually beneficial relationship.”

            Evan bit his lips. “We’re not really negotiators,” he said, unable to shake the feeling that coming here might have been a big mistake. But if they played it cool, they could very well just go home and forget this place existed. But of course Sheppard would demand an explanation for their sudden departure, and a gut-feeling probably wouldn’t be a good enough reason. “We’re just here to say hi, really.”

            “Your message said you were explorers,” Ronda said. In the dim light of the entrance hall, Evan saw that her eyes were almost purple. The things you saw when going through the Gate really were astonishing, he thought, reminding himself that he had to focus on the structure of the building they were in now, on how many guards were stationed at the doors, not on the architectural merits.

            “We are,” he said, making sure that Nabi, Woeste and Menard were on full-alert without drawing too much attention to themselves. “But we’re always looking for new trade partners, of course. We’re especially famous for our casa, actually,” he improvised, remembering the plant which an alliance of thugs had started spreading through the Milky Way as he counted the guards in the entrance hall. Ten. Not particularly good odds if things went south.

            “Your what?”

            “A vegetable,” he lied, “Very nutritious, very tasty.”

            “Hm…”, Ronda said, leading them through a massive door on the other side of the hall, where a long table had been set for them. Dishes upon dishes, all of them vegetables by the looks of it, had been set up there, and Evan only hoped that none of his men would take a bite. Probably not. They knew well enough not to take food from alien races. That protocol had been in place for months. He just couldn’t help himself. These people were too wealthy, this place too much intact for a world in the Pegasus Galaxy. Not that every people they met were poor, far from it, but these guys just were too prosperous and not enough afraid of the potential dangers a Stargate in the middle of a settlement held. “Who do you trade with?” she asked.

            “Several worlds,” Evan said evasively, taking the seat which was offered to him. “You’ll forgive me for not wanting to reveal our sources. Like I said, we’re not negotiators.”

            “You say, you deal in plants?”

            Menard shrugged, sitting down next to Evan. “Most of the time, yes. And of course we’re very interested in different cultures.” He cleared his throat. “Your town is very beautiful.”

            Nabi nodded. “We’ve been to several worlds,” he said, leaning on the back of his chair, while Ronda walked to the head of the table, her eyes fixed on him. “None of them had a Stargate in the centre of their town.”

            Ronda’s eyebrow twitched up. “You haven’t?” she asked. “Most places we trade with do.”

            “Aren’t you afraid of the Wraith?” Woeste asked, making Evan’s stomach plummet. He’d been wondering the same thing, but he’d never dared ask that question.

            She shook her head. “The Wraith do not come here. Not usually.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

2006

After about an hour, Oliver, de Clare and Fisherman joined them in the catacombs. De Clare had, apparently, found nothing, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise, since the city had been levelled by the Wraith hundreds of years ago, and why would they leave any usable technology behind? The only place that might be worth a look in that respect was the central spire, which was bound to have been sealed up by the Ancients. And they couldn’t go there out of respect to the Athosians. Of course de Clare was disappointed.

            Alex looked up from the notes she’d resorted to taking while talking to Halling. She’d taken pictures of the drawings in the chambers where Halling had taken her. There must be hundreds of chambers more, a city underneath a city. For now she had no clue as to what the Ancients had done here, and they weren’t her main focus anyway. What she cared about for now was Athosian history and Halling’s re-telling of it. But as Oliver, de Clare and Fisherman sat down next to them, looking up at the drawings and listening to Halling, Alex felt a twinge of caution. Shaking her head, she turned off the recording device and looked at Halling.

            “Thank you,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I-“ she licked her lips and stretched. She’d been sitting here with her legs folded underneath her for the better part of an hour and her neck was starting to stiffen.

            “What is it?” Oliver frowned down at her, the exact same look on his face as Halling.

            “I’m just… I’m wondering if what we’re doing here is right.” Her teammates had been listening to Halling, enthralled by the stories he was telling. But that was just the thing. Halling was telling these stories.

            “Wasn’t that the purpose of us coming here?”

            Alex swallowed her and looked at Halling apologetically. “Yes, of course. And I still believe it’s right that the research here is important, but… do you have any written records of your history? Of your stories?”

            Shaking his head, Halling looked up at the drawings. “These are the oldest records we have. And they, along with the stories we tell, have been passed down from generation to generation.”

            “Right.” Alex got to her feet, leaving her notebook on the ground. “And that’s the whole point.”

            By the way Fisherman was looking at her and the soft smile was starting to spread on Halling’s lips Alex could tell that she was making the right call. “The moment people start recording the stories of a certain faith, they start changing the religion. It’s happened to nearly every big religion we have on Earth. And if I start recording this one orally told story, I’m going to change something. I’m not sure I’m the right person to do that.” She sighed and scratched her head.

            “Huh…” Oliver said, leaning back. “So, you’re not gonna write anything down?”

            Alex bit her lip and shook her head. “We’re approaching this thing all wrong,” she said, looking at Halling with a shrug. “I’m sorry but putting things in writing will set things. If somebody in a hundred years or so looks at my notes, they will believe that yours is the only view on your stories.” The Ancients, or Ancestors, as the people of the Pegasus Galaxy called them, played a big role in them, but she remembered the Book of Origin. She’d started reading it a couple of months ago, and sitting here, writing things down held so many dangers that she was terrified just looking at the pen and paper on the ground. Swallowing hard, she shook her head. The Ori had been Ancients and they’d started abusing their powers with the help of a book they’d written. She wasn’t going to be the one responsible for a fundamentalist take on the Ancients, even if it was just by accident.

            “What are you saying?”

            “I’m saying that it’s not my business to do the recording of their stories. I don’t want to cause more harm than good. Halling, would it be alright, if I just took pictures?”

 

“What do you mean, they don’t usually come here?” Evan asked. Really, coming here had to have been a big mistake. “They don’t know you’re here?” Please, let them have some kind of cloak or shield. Please, please, please.

            “They know,” she said. The door leading into the entrance hall was still wide open and Evan could see the guards still standing there, rigid and unmoving. Please, don’t let this be another Replicator planet. “But we trade with them on another planet. They seldom honour us with their presence.”

            Nabi’s eyes narrowed and Evan sensed the tension in the Lieutenant’s body from where he was sitting. He wasn’t entirely wrong. It was high time they left. “You’re Wraith Worshippers?”

            “If that is what you want to call us, yes.” Ronda raised her eyebrows at them and smiled, her white teeth flashing in the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. “But you could also say that we have a special arrangement with them. And, to be perfectly frank, your equipment would suggest that you would benefit from an arrangement like ours as well.”

            His mouth was so dry he could barely bring himself to speak. He'd never heard of Wraith Worshippers openly declaring their allegiance like this. More often than not, Worshippers were attacked and killed by other humans, or at least shunned from human society. This, this was different. And the openness with which she talked about it suggested that she was confident enough in her world's capability to defend themselves against a sudden attack from the outside. The question was how to get out of this one alive. “What do you mean?” he asked, putting all the authority he could muster into his voice, when all he wanted to do was reach for his gun.

“I'm going to make you an offer and you can take it to your people,” Ronda said, sitting down in the elaborately carved chair heading the table. “What we do is take care of the Wraiths’ herd. We take them to designated places when the Wraith tell us to. You appear to be well equipped for that sort of work. If you’re interested, come back here tomorrow. If not, we will follow you. We have allies. Plenty of them. Do you understand my meaning?”

There wasn’t a whole lot to misunderstand. They were shepherds of sorts. Or what they would call shepherds, when in reality they were just opportunists.

“Your wealth is based on that trade?” Woeste asked with a frown and Evan could’ve kicked him. The last thing they should do right now is antagonize these people.

Ronda smiled happily and put her feet up on the table. “There are plenty of Wraith out there. Plenty of hives to serve. It’s not a terrible arrangement.”

 

When Alex and her team returned from their mission, Alex only stopped long enough for Oliver, de Clare and Fisherman to get out of the Jumper, before heading back to the mainland to drop off Halling.

            Her mind was racing. She’d have to set up a meeting with Anna and talk their plan over. It was one thing to gather as much information as possible about civilizations which had been lost to the Wraith, to record what they could, but a completely different thing to record from cultures which were thriving. They had to find another way, or they could easily become much more than just researchers. And they couldn’t just ask the Athosians or any other culture to start preserving their stories the way the people from Earth did.

Luckily, Halling hadn’t been angry, and he didn’t think his time had been wasted by Alex and her team. In fact, he appeared to be fascinated by the horrors Alex told him about theological disputes on Earth and how writing could influence things for better or worse. The Athosians had their own writing, their own letters, their own language, though they stuck to the Common Tongue more often than not, but they rarely recorded stories. Having been nomads for countless generations, this came as no surprise, but she could see that she’d gotten him thinking. What that might result in, she couldn’t say yet, though.

            Setting down the ship in the Jumper Bay after a seemingly endless day, she shouldered her backpack again and smiled at Zelenka, who would check the ship over, like they did after every trip. “Hey,” she greeted him, as he approached the ship, tablet in hand. “Anything interesting happen while I was gone?” What she meant was, had the data exchange already happened? Zelenka had no idea about her orders, but it didn’t hurt to ask.

            He shrugged and sighed. “Don’t get me started,” he mumbled.

            “What?” She stood still and watched him as he walked past her to attach the tablet to the outlet in the cargo area.

            “We depleted the ZPM.”

            Alex froze. “I’m sorry, what?” The Zero Point Module, which she and her team had dug up in Giza had been fully charged, when it’d been brought to Atlantis over a year ago.

            Shaking his head, Zelenka looked at her and when their eyes met, she saw realization dawning on him. “You found it, didn’t you?”

            “Yes. What happened?” There were no signs of battle anywhere, no attempt to contact them.

            “Let’s just say the experiment which McKay and his sister were conducting failed. We had to deplete the Zero Point Module to save two universes.” The unhappy smile on Zelenka’s face made her heart plummet. Weeks of digging in the glaring sun of Egypt wasted in a single day. She swallowed hard and nodded. Well, it had never been her call of how the ZPM would be used, but to have the energy wasted on an experiment was devastating.

            “Huh,” she breathed. Evan, Oliver, Menard and everyone else involved in that dig wouldn’t be happy either. On the other hand, it meant that the next message from Chapman wouldn’t reach her until the next shipment of supplies arrived on the Daedalus. “Was the data burst sent out before the ZPM was depleted?” she asked and Zelenka nodded. The Daedalus was still here and by the looks of it wouldn’t be returning to Earth for another couple of days. So she still had some time here at least. That was something. And there really wasn’t anything she or anybody else on Atlantis could do to get them access to more power. “Two McKays couldn’t solve the problem, then?”

            Zelenka laughed mirthlessly. “We managed to send Rod back. The- the other McKay that is.” Shaking his head, he looked back on his tablet and started running a diagnostic. “And if you ask me, one is enough for each universe.”

She still had no idea what exactly that experiment had been about, but the fact that a second McKay, one who was more sociable and somehow less likeable than their own, had been here, had been more than strange in itself. But then again, weird things happened here every day.

“Okay…” She forced herself to smile. She was just tired. And this wasn’t the ideal end of a workday. “Thanks for the info, though.” She just wanted to go to her quarters, take a shower and talk things over with Anna. Evan should be back in a couple of hours, too, and they still had to finish reading that last Harry Potter book they’d brought back from Earth. Book deliveries to Pegasus took forever, so sometimes it was better to just bring them yourself. “Have a nice evening.”

            “Thank you! You, too.”

            The debriefing wouldn’t be until the next morning, which would give her plenty of time to talk to her teammates as well. De Clare had been obviously disappointed that they hadn’t found anything for him to study, but he hadn’t voiced that complain. Fisherman had spent the journey back looking glumly at the pictures she’d taken. Not all missions were pure excitement for everyone and that really wasn’t why they were here.

What needed to be done now was to set up an archaeological and anthropological team to catalogue the drawings and artefacts which could still be found on Athos. That was all they could do anyway, she was sure of it. The things which had already been written down or drawn could be saved digitally. Everything else would simply be too much for them. Too preposterous.

            Walking down the stairs to the control room, she already started thinking of the report she would file. Better do that sooner rather than later. Maybe she’d even have it finished before Evan got back. He’d been on several night shifts since their return from Earth and they hadn’t had a proper evening, just the two of them.

            Her eyes swept over the control room, over the technicians at their stations and Doctor Weir walking across the bridge into her office. Weir nodded at her in greeting and Alex waved once. She couldn’t wait to get rid of her weapons and her backpack and maybe, maybe she’d even get the chance to take a bath. She was amazed at how well equipped the quarters here were. But then again, she and Evan got to share one of the bigger quarters, since he was Sheppard’s second-in-command.

            “Unscheduled off-world activation!” Chuck shouted, just as Alex was about to take the next set of stairs. She halted in mid-stride, frozen in place. That could mean anything, she told herself. Anything. This thing happened all the time. She took the step and then the next.

            “It’s Major Lorne’s team. Gating in from a different planet. Lowering the shield.”

            Evan was back early? They were supposed to go visit a world with a fairly sophisticated world, with a more than unusual location for the Gate. The middle of a town-square if she recalled correctly. Really, this mission couldn’t be over yet.

            Next second she was rushing down the stairs, nearly tripping over her feet, when she heard the sound of energy blasts hitting solid wall.

            “Raise the shield!” she heard Evan shout and before she knew it, she was standing in the Gate Room, marines in front of her, hiding him from view. Someone was lying on the ground.

            “We need a medical team!”

Alex was pushed to the side. She barely felt it, she just moved forward to see Menard lying sprawled out on the ground. But there didn’t seem to be a wound anywhere. No blood. And there was Evan, standing on his own two feet, looking at Sheppard as he approached him. He must have been in the control room

            “What happened, Major!?” Weir’s voice came from somewhere above.

            “I suggest we tag that planet as unfriendly.”

            “No kidding!” Sheppard and Evan both watched on as Menard was put on a stretcher.

            “He was stunned,” Evan said. “I managed to pull him through.” He looked up then and met Alex’s gaze. The barely visible, reassuring smile on his lips did little to calm her down. He was back. He was safe. But she hadn’t, not for a second, even thought that something bad might happen to him. Not today.

All she could do was try and keep her breath steady. Things like this happened. She should be used to them by now, but the scratch on his cheek, made her realize that it was easier for her to see him in action that watch him coming out of it.

“They were Wraith Worshippers,” Nabi said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “We gated to another planet to throw them off our trail, but they followed us.”

Sheppard rubbed his neck and nodded. “Glad you’re back. Debriefing in an hour. Get checked out, just in case. That cut looks nasty, Lorne.”

Evan nodded and gestured for the other members of his team to get moving, before meeting Alex’s gaze again, his eyes so earnest, they made her hiccup. What a weakling she was.

Chapter Text

2006

A waste of energy. That’s what she should be thinking looking down on the city from here, but she simply couldn’t. Not with the golden light from the hundreds of towers glowing warmly in the darkness and the stars and the moon above. It was just the way things were and McKay hadn’t found, or hadn’t bothered to find, a method of shutting down all the lights they didn’t need at night. Alex didn’t know, but she had to admit the effect created by the thousands of lights was breathtaking. Had Evan drawn this yet? Probably.

            Evan had been in the briefing room for the better part of an hour now. They didn’t have time to talk, he’d only hugged her close to his chest, whispered that he was okay and had taken off, leaving her more vulnerable than before. He’d been hurt before, stunned, captured by the Genii, he’d been shot out of the sky and beaten up, but today had rattled her more than before. Maybe because she hadn’t expected it. Maybe because they’d almost decided on having another child. But even when Nora had still been with them, she hadn’t been this worried about him when he was off-world.

            The cool ocean breeze ruffled her hair and she pulled it back into a bun, looking up to the city’s main spire, where Evan and the members of his team must still be right now. She was waiting for him on one of the three balconies near their living quarters. She’d seen Murdoch sneaking into Anna’s room about an hour ago and that had been the last movement in this particular corridor. There must still be people in the mess hall, getting a late-night snack, and there certainly were people at the gym and security teams walking the corridors, but apart from them there wasn’t a whole lot of activity around here.

            She should be working on her report, make the best of the time she had until he came here, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to focus right now. She pulled up her tablet and started clicking through the messages she’d gotten with the last data burst. Just one from Chapman, informing her that she was expected at SGC with the next dial-in. But he didn’t get Weir’s plea to let her stay yet, so she’d stay here for now, especially since there wasn’t going to be a dial-in until the expedition got their hands on another power source.

One from Adam, telling her of a stewardess he’d started dating. Really, the man was one walking stereotype.

Two from her mother, telling her that the security detail had been withdrawn from their house and that she’d decided to join the church choir. Good for her.

Three messages from Daniel, one of which made her stomach tighten. Earth had lost contact to Langara about two weeks ago. The Ori, clearly, hadn’t stopped there, and nobody could tell what had happened to the people of Jonas’ world, or to Jonas for that matter. She could only hope he was okay.

And then there was a message from Evan’s dad, telling her about a great book he’d just read, asking her opinion on the theories of one Daniel Jackson. Apparently he’d found that book Daniel had written in a garage sale. The man had really dived into archaeology, Alex thought. Maybe too intensely. She could only hope David Lorne didn’t start digging.

            Through the gap between two of the buildings to her right, she could see the Daedalus, which was set to leave for Earth the next day. How glad she was not to be stationed in a metal container like that for weeks on end. At least not right now.

            She heard steps behind her. Too light to be Evan’s and she didn’t turn around, but they drew nearer and then Teyla was learning against the railing next to her. “Hello, Doctor.”

            “Hey,” Alex said, wiping her brow. “Not ready for bed yet, either?”

            “No.” The other woman shook her head. “Major Lorne asked me to tell you that he wanted to check up on Lieutenant Menard.”

            “Makes sense. So you were in the debriefing?”

            Nodding, Teyla folded her hands. “There have always been stories of people serving the Wraith willingly, but I didn’t believe those until very recently.” With a frown, she looked down on her hands. “It is strange.”

            “No kidding… I mean,” Alex cleared her throat. “I get the addiction to the enzyme thing. I read about that. And it makes sense, but they can’t possibly all be addicted like that?”

            “No.” Teyla sighed. “Major Lorne told us that apparently the people on the world they were on made sure there is plenty for the Wraith to feed on. They secure and conquer worlds for the Wraith, keep the population up as best they can and earn their reward.”

            How many worlds must have fallen to them? How many people had been betrayed by other humans?

            “And they’re left alone in return?” she guessed, “And are allowed to flourish?”

            Teyla nodded. No wonder those people hadn’t been afraid to build their town around the Stargate.

            She scoffed. “People are sick.”

            “They may not have another choice.”

            “Maybe. Still. Serving the Wraith willingly…” Alex had encountered a few of them, had seen the look of pure rapture on a Wraith’s face as it fed on another human being. Granted, she’d only seen it once, but it had been enough to make her have nightmares for weeks on end. How could any human being willingly allow somebody else to die like that? How could anybody wish to receive the life force which had been stolen from another living creature like that? There was always a choice.

            “I agree. We have to be careful about these people from now on. Be more cautious. There will be a memo to all personnel tomorrow.”

            Alex nodded. “Sounds about right.”

            “How did your mission go?”

            Of course Teyla would be present during the debriefing the next day, so there shouldn’t be any rush in telling her, but she was grateful for the company. For somebody to talk to while she waited for Evan. To keep her mind occupied, and Teyla must sense that. And so Alex told her what she’d told Halling. About how her writing down their stories would be wrong. About how grateful she was to be allowed to document as much as possible of their written history anyway.

            “You did it before though, did you not? Interpret stories from pictures? Develop theories and write them down?”

            Alex bit her lip and looked down on her hands. “That was different. Those cultures I used to work on, the texts I translated, were so old, there was nobody alive believing in any of that anymore. By all means, those religions were dead. Yours isn’t and I sure as hell won’t be the person to change what you have. Words are too powerful to be treated lightly.”

            “I agree,” Teyla said quietly. “But that does not mean that a good documentation on what we have is not important. We-“ Teyla paused for a moment and shrugged. “Things can change so fast. They can get lost so easily.”

            “No kidding,” Alex muttered, staring out on the water again. At the light being reflected off the rippled surface. If life had taught her anything, it was that. “And those pictures you have are something that won’t change. They’ve been put up on those walls with purpose and determination. Somebody thought long and hard about what to draw and how to draw it and that’s different.” And really, that made all the difference in the world. Her memories of Nora changed and faded. The day she’d woken up and found that she couldn’t remember the exact feeling of that tiny warm body against her chest, had been terrifying to say the least. But that picture Evan had drawn of them remained. The photo his mother had taken was still there. A freeze frame in time.

“What are your plans now?”

            Alex shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ll keep working on documenting what we can find, but I won’t analyse or interpret. I’ll have to think of another strategy. Or Doctor Schneider will.” She bit her lip and shrugged. “I may have to go back to Earth for a while. We’ll see.” She really needed to talk to Anna.

 

Menard looked okay. He’d woken up before Evan came to see him. Woeste and Nabi would be checking up on their team mate the next day.

            “Hey, Lieutenant,” Evan greeted him.

            “Hey, Major. How did it go?”

            Shrugging, Evan pulled up a chair and sat down. “Okay. Should be a fun report to write. How are you doing?”

            “A bit of a headache,” Menard said. No small wonder. Menard had hit the ground pretty hard. “They’re going to keep me here over night.”

            “Sounds about right.” Evan managed a smile. “Thanks for saving my skin back there.” The grin Menard threw back at him looked forced, but he knew the Lieutenant was glad to get the acknowledgement.

            “Yes, Sir. I was terrified of what Doctor Lorne would’ve had to say if I let that guy take you down.”

            “True enough.” Evan laughed. The look of poor terror on Alex’s face had been enough to remind him again of how quickly things could go south. But he was glad he could still joke about it with his team. Every other take on the danger they put themselves in, would’ve made going through the Gate next to impossible. And it wasn’t like this all the time. “Still. Good thinking dialling another planet first.” Ronda’s people had followed them straight away. Only a couple of minutes had passed before the Gate was dialled again and Ronda’s guards had stepped through. “They really wanted to check out who we were. What we’re capable of.”

            “Didn’t they see the address on the DHD?” Menard asked, a look of concern on his face.

            “I doubt they’ll be able to dial out again anytime soon,” Evan shrugged. “Nabin and Woeste had a couple of grenades left and those guys were so close to us.” And even if they did, the most important thing was that Menard was safe back here.

            “Sir, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.” Reaching for the cup of water by his bedside gave Menard enough reason not to look straight at him.

            “What is it?”

            “You know I had a brother, right?” Menard said making an effort now to look Evan in the eye. “Single parent. He died a year ago and my mom’s been taking care of the little girl. I want to go back home. Take care of my niece. My mom’s not as young as she used to be.”

            “Damn you, Menard,” Evan whispered, shaking his head. “Why the hell did you throw yourself in the way of that stunner?” He’d have been hit, Menard would’ve pulled him through the event horizon. No big deal, really. Or it shouldn’t be.

            Shrugging, Menard took a sip of water. There was a kid back on Earth who needed him and he just threw his life on the line like that. Well, it was their job to get shot at, but if Menard was already thinking about resigning his commission, then that had been a damn stupid move. “You know why.”

            Evan ignored the ripping pain in his chest, that jealousy which spread through his entire being whenever somebody talked about having children waiting for them back home. “You should go on the Daedalus.” He knew why Menard hadn’t talked to him until now. Hell, he would’ve been nervous in Menard’s place. Menard had been there when they found Nora, he’d given him and Alex the unidentifiable stuffed animal which had been right there next to Nora when she’d died.

            “Sorry, Major.”

            “Don’t be. And if you need me to, I’ll make this an order.”

 

Alex quickly closed the picture on her tablet, when she heard footsteps behind her. Evan had told her about Menard. About him leaving and about how terrible Evan felt about being jealous. It was no small wonder. She herself found this whole thing hard to think about. But it was a good thing that Menard was leaving. For him and his little niece anyway. And she didn’t want anyone seeing her staring at the picture of Nora right now. Those were questions she still couldn’t face.

            “Keeping busy?” Anna asked, grinning like a slightly deranged circus clown.

            “Keeping busy,” Alex said, turning around in her chair to look at her colleague. “You’re not even trying to hide it, are you?”

            “Nope.” Anna sat down opposite Alex and shrugged. “He’s awesome! So much better than Stephan! And so much nicer.”

            Well that was new. Alex sat up straight and looked at her. “You never even mentioned Stephan. Just in that one email when you told me you were getting married.”

            “Sometimes marriage is a huge mistake,” Anna said knowledgeable. “We’d been going out for about six years and… well. Everybody was expecting us to get married, so we did, and it was just so wrong. You wouldn’t know.”

            Alex scoffed and shrugged. “No, things with Evan and me were a bit unconventional from the start to be honest. So, what made you decide to go for it with Oliver after all? It was about time, to be honest.”

            Anna knew her way around Alex’s office far too well. She turned around in her seat, opened the top drawer of a small cabinet and pulled out a box of raisin cookies. That meant it was time for a break according to Anna. “I don’t know,” Anna said, ripping open the plastic and taking out three cookies at once before handing the package over to Alex. “I just started talking to him in the mess and things got intense. He’s a great guy. A bit too talkative sometimes, maybe, but,” she shrugged, “sexy as hell.”

            “Hm…” Alex’d never thought of Oliver that way, but sure, if Anna was attracted to Oliver, who was she to judge? And Oliver was a nice guy. A reliable, steady man, who’d put his life on the line for anyone. “I think you made the right call. If it’s serious. Is it?”

            “I think so. I mean, it’s only been two weeks, but we’re getting there.” She eyed Alex and crammed a cookie into her mouth. “’Ow ‘bout you?”  Anna asked, nearly sputtering cookie all over the floor.

            “What do you mean?” Alex bit off a piece of her cookie. “I don’t think Oliver is sexy, no.” She grinned when her friend rolled her eyes, “And, yes, it’s serious with Evan and me.”

            “Haha…” Anna swallowed with an effort. Alex should really set up a tea kettle in here for occasions like these. These cookies were dry as hell. “I mean, you never told me how you met your guy.”

            “My guy?” Alex laughed and shrugged. “We just met. He started talking, I thought he had the most amazing eyes I’d ever seen, and there was a bit of a smudge of charcoal on his chin from sketching. All I could think about the entire time was… well.” She blushed and lowered her gaze. “Artists are sexy, let’s leave it at that.”

            “Huh…” Leaning back, her elbows on the desk behind her, Anna surveyed her. “And you dated for almost ten years?”

            “Nah… we split up shortly after I took that job in New York.” She’d lost contact with Anna about the same time, or at least they’d lost personal contact. Professionally they’d kept collaborating, but Alex just never felt like talking about Evan anymore.

            “Okay… well, I’m glad you’re back together. You two make an awesome competition for Oliver and me.”

            “We’re still on for volleyball this afternoon, then?”

            “Absolutely. Our new-found energy is going to crush you.”

            “Ha! Well, that’s something I want to see.”

Chapter Text

 

 

2006

Her skin was hot against his as their breath mingled and hitched in the last aftershocks. The condom lay abandoned on the pillow next to her head, forgotten and decidedly ignored. One look had been enough to ensure that they weren’t going to use it. Talking about it would only take them back to the same conversation they’d had dozens of times and get them nowhere.

            Alex’s head was resting in the crook of his arm, her hair sticking to her forehead, her eyes already starting to droop shut and that magnificent smile still on her lips. Just knowing that he was the one who put it there was enough to make him want to start all over again.

            Leaning in, he kissed the corner of her mouth. “It’s the middle of the day,” he whispered into her ear. “Don’t fall asleep yet.”

            She groaned. “Just a nap.” She turned around to lie on her side, wrapped her arm around his torso and drew closer so the tip of her nose was touching his Adam’s apple.

            “Fine.” He let his fingertips trail down her spine. To just lie here, a few minutes past four in the afternoon, to hold her and watch her face illuminated by the sun should be enough. They rarely had time together like this during the day. Resting his chin on her head and enjoying the feeling of her warmth enveloping him, he felt his eyes starting to fall shut.

 

She woke gradually. She hadn’t slept properly, just dozed off really, but his breathing pattern had changed and his body had shifted. It was enough to make her open her eyes again. He was lying on his back now, one arm still wrapped securely around her, but his eyes were trained on the book he was holding. She couldn’t make out the words on the page, she’d need her glasses for that, but he must have been at it for a while. He didn’t even notice she was awake.

            “What are you reading?” she asked drowsily, her voice sounding more like a grinding stone than anything else.

            “Van Gogh biography.” He looked at her with a sideways glance and shut the book.

She almost felt bad for making him stop reading. “Don’t stop on my account.” Raising her hand, she touched his ear. A bad joke at a dead painter’s expense, but she couldn’t resist.

             He chuckled and turned his head. “Nah…”

            “Why van Gogh?”

            The frown on his face wasn’t something she’d anticipated. He threw the paperback on the nightstand and turned on his side to look at her. His gaze, as he studied hers was intense. The same look he wore when he took out a pencil or a brush and started sketching or painting. A sense of pure rapture emanated from him then. Of focus and determination mingled with a fascination which had drawn her in the moment she met him. It had been the reason why it had been so easy to let him in, to give him full access, not just to her body, but to her soul. The very essence of her being. Because the way he looked at her, the way he looked at things that fascinated him, made her feel secure. Treasured even.

            “What?” she grinned as his index followed the line of her lips. His brows were knitted together in concentration, his eyes focused on her mouth.

            “The summer before I went to the Academy, I did a bit of backpacking,” he said, using almost the exact same words he’d said back in her old flat in Trier. When they’d started talking and only the alarm clock ringing in the early hours of the morning could make them stop. “And, I don’t know, I just had to think of a picture I saw when I was in Amsterdam. The Potato Eaters by van Gogh.” His gaze moved up to meet hers, and there was such a longing in them, it made her heart contract painfully. As though the very look in his eyes could squeeze the breath out of her lungs. His lips formed a soft smile. “I didn’t even think about that painting until I picked up the book just now.”

            She’d seen it before, lying on his nightstand. She remembered him buying it at the airport in Frankfurt. “Why?”

            Shaking his head, he leaned in and kissed her lips briefly. Evan’s lips were warm and dry against her own. “You know it? The painting?”

            “Tell me.” She vaguely remembered having seen it somewhere at some point, probably at school, but she wanted to listen to his voice, to see the look on his face as he described it.

            “It’s a really simple scene,” he said quietly, the low rasp in his voice at the end of the sentence making her push up closer against him. “Just a couple of peasants sitting around a table, eating potatoes. And the focus is this one woman.” His fingertips shifted from her lips to her eyebrows, to her jaw. “She’s looking at this man to her right and… back then I thought there was a sense of longing in them, but now…” he shrugged. “Maybe it’s just concern. Like she’s worried about him constantly. About feeding him. Keeping him safe. You reminded me of her yesterday.”

            She would’ve laughed, had his words not hit dead centre. “I’m sorry.”

            “It’s not what I meant.” He cleared his throat. “Just. You looked so fragile then, when I know you’re everything but fragile. You remember Larsa?”

            “Hard to forget. Over half a year trapped with you on a pre-industrial planet.” Friends gained, friends lost. Children, women and men killed in cold blood. A child born and ripped away from them. How could she forget?

            Evan grunted and reached for her left hand with his. The golden wedding bands shimmered softly in the light of the setting sun. “When we were there, I was constantly terrified.”

            “I know… me too.”

            “But sometimes it was easier, you know? When the Jaffa didn’t pose an imminent threat, when the neighbours decided to protect us, or when Cuthbert came over. Or we had dinner after a long day in the fields. But still. I was always worried and the look in your eyes yesterday reminded me of that somehow. Of how we coped with everything back there. Adjusting to that life, learning so much.”

            She scoffed. Cuthbert’s name had given her a pang. The boy had died with the rest of the villagers. She kissed his hand and brushed her free hand through his hair. “You were becoming quite the farmer.”

            “You were incredible. Doing all the work when I couldn’t move, learning to milk that cow.”

            “Killing chickens.” She hadn’t had chicken since those days. Remembering the feeling the bones in the neck break as she twisted it, the small body grow cold in her lap, of ripping the feathers out of the beheaded body, the weird sensation of satisfaction she felt when the feathers came out, was enough to make her feel sick even today. She’d told herself to just keep going and ignore the fact that she was dealing with an animal, because they needed to eat. No need to eat chicken nowadays. “The cow loved you more, though.”

            “I have gentle hands, or so I’ve been told.” He smirked at her, his eyes glinting almost mischievously.

            “Anyway… you were saying?”

            “You looked at me that way sometimes like that. Like that woman in that painting when we were there. Worried, longingly…”

            “It wasn’t just a question of survival then,” she muttered, unable to look at him then.

            “I know… Nora was on the way, I know that. But I just figured, things can never get so bad again. That’s something you go through once. We will never again be stranded on a planet occupied by the enemy, relying on strangers helping us survive, worried about possibly never eating again. Nobody will ever take a child from us like that.”

            “So you thought we should give it another try?”

            “Weird thought pattern, I know. We’ll always be worried about each other, about a kid we might have, but that’s just part of life. It can happen anywhere anytime.”

            “And then Menard left.”

            He nodded. “And then Menard resigned his commission. Yes.” She’d started thinking about it as well at the exact same time, and she had to admit, he wasn’t wrong.

            “So… we’re just going to try and think about the consequences later?”

            The shrug was disconcerting to say the least. He wasn’t an impulsive person usually, and neither was she. Only when it came to them. Their relationship. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? She couldn’t tell.

            “Let’s just decide not to worry. Let’s not think about it. We know we can do it, raise a kid, and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t.”

            Easier said than done. “Easy for you to say. You don’t keep track of my cycle.” And what would happen when she’d have to leave on the Daedalus? It was more than likely that she’d have to go then, and what would they say if she was pregnant by then? Would they be devastated when she wasn’t? No… he was right. Worrying about getting pregnant wasn’t the way to go. It’d happened once before. It’d happen again, or it wouldn’t, she told herself. They’d just take what life had in store for them and tweak circumstances where they could. It’d worked until now, why should it stop?

            “I don’t?” Evan raised an eyebrow at her, kissed her knuckles and turned around to rummage in the drawer of his nightstand. “So you’re not gonna need those in a week?” He asked, producing a bag of crisps. Salt and vinegar.

            “You planned this,” she laughed, ripping the bag from his grasp and sitting up to open the bag. She couldn’t believe he actually knew what she’d want in a week from now. But then again, he always had a bag for her, she realized. Always. At just the right time.

            “A bit, yes,” he grinned up at her, the dimples forming in his cheeks making her heart beat faster for a second. They made the thin scratch on his cheek stand out even more those dimples. “But only insofar as I made sure that I have one at the ready.”

            “Cheeky,” Alex said, stuffing one crisp into her mouth. “Want one?”

            “I should stay off chips.” Evan patted his flat stomach and looked up at her with a grin.

            “Sure. Make your wife stuff her face with calories.”

            “Well, they have to go somewhere. It’s physics.”

            “Hm.” Shrugging, Alex placed another one on her tongue and held one in front of Evan’s lips, who wrinkled his nose at the smell. But he took it into his mouth anyway.

            “Disgusting.”

            “That’s your palette’s fault.”

            “I’ll give it a good talking to.” He sat up as well, his arm sneaked up around her shoulders to pull her closer. His kiss tasted salty and sour and distinctly of crisps. “I need to tell you something.” He wrapped one strand of hair around his finger und brushed his thumb over her chin.

The gravity in his eyes drove all thought of crisps and sex clear out of her mind. Soft plastic crackling filled the silence between them as she put down the bag. “What?”

            Next moment, he’d let go of her. His hands were around hers. “Don’t bite my head off, please. I just- there was no time, or the right time is never there. I-“ Swallowing hard, he squeezed her hand. “The day after we got back, Beckett came to see me.”

            Her eyes widened. Was that it then? Had he started talking about kids, because he was sick? No, that couldn’t be it. Could it? If it were, why was he still on duty? “What?”

            “No! No, don’t look at me like that. I’m fine. It’s just- apparently the Air Force sent some tissue samples along when we got back. Giving him no details on where they came from, but they wanted him to do an analysis. He hasn’t spoken to me since, so, really it’s probably nothing.”

            Her heart plummeted and she withdrew her hands straight away. Don’t bite my head off, he’d said. Like it was nothing. “Yeah?” she asked, the one word coming out louder than she wanted. “Did he say that it was about our daughter? Has the SGC found another one? They found plenty of Ba’al’s clones didn’t they?” She hated how high her voice sounded and the hurt look on his face made it even worse. She threw the blanket back and got up.

            “Alex…”

            “Well?” she asked, rummaging through her drawer to find underwear. This was no argument to be had naked.

            “No, he didn’t know and-“

            “It’s been what? Two weeks? Three?”

            “I said I never found the time-“

            “Three damn weeks, Evan!” There was just no excuse. Shaking her head, she started putting on her clothes. She couldn’t look at him. From one second to the next he just wasn’t someone she wanted near her. Not right now. It would pass quickly enough. “Is that why you decided to bring up this topic about kids again?”

            “No! I-“

            “You’re telling me that in three weeks you didn’t have the time to tell me one simple thing?!”

            “I’m sorry.”

            Her hands were shaking. News of Nora rarely shook her like that these days, mainly because there never were any news. “I bet you are,” she hissed, throwing over her shirt. It was inside out, but she didn’t care. She needed some air.

            “Alex, where are you going?”

            “To write my report, Evan.” Her cheeks were burning. She was rarely angry with him, but she was now. And she needed to talk to Beckett. Why the hell hadn’t the Doctor said anything to her?! She’d seen him just the previous day for her routine check-up. Reaching for her glasses, she started for the door. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She would’ve slammed the door if she could’ve. Damn Lantean architecture.

 

Chapter Text

 

2006

She was in front of the infirmary within minutes, her heart racing, her hands clammy. She hesitated, pausing, wondering if she really had it in her to proceed. To just go in there and ask Beckett for clarification without Evan. The throbbing pain in her chest had nothing to do with the anger she felt at him. That would pass quickly enough, but it had everything to do with that sense of falling without being able to stop.

            Hurried footsteps echoed in the empty corridor behind her. A rhythm and a certain sound she would’ve recognized anywhere. She didn’t however acknowledge him.

“Alex, I-“

“Doctor Beckett?” Alex had spotted the expedition’s chief surgeon at the far end of the infirmary, walking towards a metal cabinet. She didn’t want to talk. . Not to Evan. She didn’t want to face him and his apology right now. If only she had the energy to be truly angry with him, things would be easier. Unfair, but easier.

Beckett was rummaging through a metal cabinet, sorting through medications by the looks of it. A box the size of a computer tower was standing next to him. The expired pills probably. When he heard her voice, he turned around and he frowned at her. “Are you feeling alright, Doctor?”

            Alex’s mouth was dry, her heart was beating wildly and she knew her cheeks must be bright red as she approached him, Evan following behind her. No, she wasn’t fine, but there wasn’t anything Beckett could do to calm her down. All that she could do was remind herself that none of this was Beckett’s fault. “No- Yes… Can we talk in private?”

            There weren’t a whole lot of people around, but what she had to ask of Beckett wasn’t fit for everybody’s ears. This was nobody’s business, but hers and Evan’s.

Beckett eyed them for a moment, assessing the state they were in. By the way they were standing next to each other alone, he should’ve been able to tell that something was terribly wrong, never mind Evan’s ruffled hair and the fact that she had her shirt on the wrong way and that her glasses were smudged. He must know what had driven them here in this state. That sense of fighting a losing battle made her knees weak, her stomach churn. Evan’s presence close by her elbow didn’t make it any easier, and neither did the fact that she didn’t feel his eyes resting on her. What a scene she was causing. But she couldn’t find it in her to care.

 “Of course.”

            “Did you find anything?”

            Beckett looked down the infirmary. Nobody was paying them any attention. Keller was going over some files on her tablet, completely ignoring the three of them. “Come with me,” he said, starting to lead them into his small office to the side of the infirmary. Like most labs and offices here in Atlantis, this room didn’t have a window, but it didn’t feel claustrophobic. Not like his office at the SGC had felt.

             “Sorry for disturbing you like this. I-“

            “That’s quite alright, Major. No need to apologize.” Beckett cleared his throat and picked up his tablet. “Take a seat there, I have to look up the file first.” He pointed towards a narrow sofa standing next to the door. There was barely enough room to fit them both, but it would work. It was as much an excuse to give them some time to calm down as anything, she knew.

            Evan hesitated and inhaled briefly. He was on the brink of saying her name again. And he was right, of course. This was about more than just their fight, about unspoken secrets or fear of saying the wrong thing.

            When she finally met Evan’s gaze, she couldn’t move for a second. He wasn’t frowning at her, his eyes weren’t cold, but the look of sheer distance in them, was terrifying enough. Like he was accusing her of breaking his trust. But then he moved, taking her hand decidedly and pulling her with him onto the sofa. Their knees and legs were touching and she sensed the familiarity between them at the same time she felt that he was angry with her. To even think that he'd feel betrayed now, made her almost want to smack him. There was just no excuse for his not telling her, but the worst thing about it was probably that boring sensation of disappointment. She'd never taken him for a coward.

            Eying him from the side she knew she was being unfair. He wasn't weak and he had more guts than any man she'd ever met. Additionally, he'd taken so much crap from her, with the breakup and especially after Nora's death. But right now she couldn’t be fair.

            “I didn’t think you wanted to know, when you didn’t say anything,” Beckett said, pulling up a stool and sitting down opposite them. He was still looking at his tablet, hesitating to meet their eyes and that was enough to make her want this whole thing to be over already. “But apparently you two had a long, disturbing talk…” His words stung, but she didn’t flinch back. Her entire being seemed so numb and hyper aware of everything at the same time that the accusation in Beckett’s voice couldn’t faze her.

            “Okay, so, what I’m telling you is off the record,” He looked up at them and shook his head, like he couldn’t believe he was breaking the rules like this. “I believe you deserve to know and the Air Force can go to hell for trying to make me keep quiet.” He cleared his throat.

            “Did they find a clone of Nora?” Alex spoke so quickly, she almost bit on her tongue and Evan’s hand closed more firmly around hers. No, she was glad he was here. Glad she had someone to hold on to. Her anger evaporated as suddenly as it had come, making her feel winded and exhausted, before she even knew what Beckett was going to tell them. And she was so sick of it. So sick of sitting in the offices of doctors, listening to one piece of bad news after the other. “Or just a dead body?” She hated how aggressive she sounded, but she didn’t care. She thought of broken bodies, of bodies ditched somewhere, of a little baby trapped eternally in stasis.

            Beckett’s eyes flickered upwards and he held her gaze then, his mouth set in a firm line. “In a way… now, it’s just a bit of information and I’m still digging. As the Major here obviously told you, I received a request for investigation and a tissue sample a few weeks ago. Taken from a dead body by the looks of it, and, like I said, I’m still not entirely clear on what I found there.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead, “but what I can tell you is that my research confirms that there are certain similarities between the DNA they sent me and the records I keep of your daughter.”

            Her throat was dry. Burning. Tissue taken from a dead body. Things seemed to fall into place. Things she’d sensed before now but didn’t want to talk about.

            “What the hell does that mean, Doc?” Evan leaned forward letting go of her hand, leaving it shaking in the air. Her trembling breath made him place his hand on her knee again.

            “Here’s the thing,” Beckett said, “I don’t know exactly. What I can tell you is that the tissue must have been taken from a grown person, or somebody whose growth was accelerated immensely. That person was female and she had, or has, some similarities with your daughter. But not quite. It certainly wasn’t her! There is probably more similarity between my grandmother and me than between that sample and the record I have. I can’t be sure of anything else. I’d need more information on that body before I could tell you more. But I’m working on it.”

            Accelerated growth. What did that even mean? She remembered the Ba’al clone they’d seen on that planet, the barely finished version of a grown man’s body. She lowered her gaze and stared at the floor, at how it seemed to move beneath her feet, shifting in and out of focus, as her stomach turned.

            “What about the other part of the genetic make-up?” Evan asked.

            Beckett sighed and shook his head. Like he really didn’t want to tell them that part, but knowing that there was no going around it now.

 

Hera Simon, née Barton. The woman who’d tracked them down in Germany. The woman she’d killed.

            Alex barely felt her legs moving when they left Beckett’s office and hadn’t it been for Evan’s body right behind her, she would’ve collapsed the moment the transporter doors closed before them. But he was there. Despite everything, he was by her side, guiding her to their quarters again, his own hands cold but steady.

            Her eyes didn’t linger on the bed with the messy sheets, or on the bag of crisps. She just stared at the ground as she pushed herself to go into the bathroom before the contents of her stomach could splash the floor of their room. She’d been dreading this. She’d almost been expecting it, she realized.

            She hit the ground hard, her knees screaming in pain, before the smell of disinfectant and toilet hit her nostrils, making this whole thing so much easier. She was shivering, heaving, and then it just seemed to break out of her. The tears, the sobs, her lunch. And Evan was there, holding her hair back, his own breath shaky and warm on her icy skin. And there was no sense of relief or release. Just dry, raw pain and the memory, the feeling of dry, sticky blood on her hands, as the face of the woman flashed before her eyes.

            “It wasn’t her,” she heard him say behind her when she was done, when no more but bile would come, leaving her breathless and exhausted, every muscle in her body still cramped up. He sat down behind her, his arm reaching around her body to grab some toilet paper. He wiped her cheeks, her mouth, kissed her neck, and none of it helped. His voice was so strained, she felt her own terror echoed in it.

            “Not entirely her.” She’d killed that woman. That woman, who pretended to be Douglas Barton’s niece. Or was. Or was she somebody else? How did you call a person like that? The similarities between Ba’al’s host and her had struck Alex from the moment she’d gotten a good look at that photograph, but this… She’d killed a part of her daughter, no matter how small.

            She could practically feel Evan’s heart racing in his chest as she leant against him, could feel the pulse in his neck as he held her, his hand on her forehead, the other arm wrapped securely around her. “I killed her,” she whispered as she felt Evan’s tears hit her skin. He hadn’t cried in front of her in such a long time.

            “She wanted to kill you.” His breath tickled her cheek. “And it wasn’t her.” He said it like he wanted to believe it. And of course he was right. Of course not. Their girl had been a couple of months old. She’d been a baby. A person trying to grow and failing at it. A person they’d gotten to know and love, and Beckett’s research confirmed it, that person, Hera Simon, could never have been their child. Just part of her. A part of her that survived somehow. A part of them.

            “If I ever see him again, I’ll rip his heart out,” she whispered, closing her eyes and clutching Evan’s hands. “I swear, I’ll gut him.”

            His hand traced her jaw and he kissed her cheek. Alex blinked and looked up at him, into those eyes she’d fallen in love with. “Leave some for me, okay?”

 

Her bags were packed. She’d arrived with one, she’d leave with two.

            He watched her stuff another book in her backpack. They’d barely talked since getting up and there wasn’t a whole lot to say. No, that wasn’t true. There was an awful lot to be said, but there simply wasn’t enough time to say it in. She had to get onboard Daedalus now and wait for her paperwork to come through, so Weir had a better chance of getting her to come back here. But she had to leave. Now.

            “Do you have everything?” he asked, already feeling forlorn without her in this room. One and a half years they’d been here together, and he couldn’t quite imagine what it would be like without her here. It almost felt like that time he had to leave her in New York, only that this time she wasn’t starting a new job and that the distance between them would take forever to bridge. They didn’t even have the energy in Atlantis anymore to send weekly emails. The next news he’d get from her would take three weeks to reach him. Three whole weeks of silence.

            “Probably,” she said and shrugged. She turned around then, her face set, her eyes dry but full of pain. “If I don’t, you’ll just have something to remember me by.”

            Evan forced a laugh and took her in his arms. “Be safe, okay?”

            “You too.”

            It’d been about two weeks since their breakdown in the bathroom and things hadn’t gone back to normal yet. She’d be closer to the investigation, closer to Ba’al. Closer to their daughter’s grave. She bit her lip and kissed his cheek, then the corner of his mouth. They didn’t really have time for this, but he’d be damned if he didn’t take this last opportunity to kiss his wife. She wasn’t pregnant, which, despite their talk, was a bit of a disappointment and relief at the same time.

            “I’ll be home for Christmas,” he said quietly, kissing her forehead. “I hear the Gate Bridge will be done by then.”

            “Let’s see how the test goes.” Alex’s hands were on his hips, as she moved closer, kissing him deeply and longingly, making him want to hold her and keep her with him and screw the Air Force, the IOA and their lies. And still, despite everything, he couldn’t imagine resigning his commission and that terrified him. At least, he thought, when the people in charge of the investigation had full confirmation or more information, they’d let them know, fill them in. He had to believe that. And there was still so much to be done here in the Pegasus Galaxy. He couldn’t just turn his back on the people here, or on the people in the Milky Way. His own personal feelings towards his employers didn’t really matter in the big picture. And Alex knew that. She felt the same way, or she’d have handed in her resignation already.

            “I have to go.”

            Evan nodded, reluctantly let go of her and picked up her bags.

 

Chapter Text

2006

Mitchell had made it worse. How could exchanging one single roof-tile make the roof leak worse? Standing in the middle of her office, looking at the puddle of cold water spreading on the hardwood floor.

            “Yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” Mitchell said, rubbing his neck and staring at the mess. “When did you say the roofers would be here?”

            “Three days,” she sighed, looking out the window and the curtain of rain splashing furiously against it.

            “Yeah... I’ll get a bucket.”

            “Thanks for the offer though.” It was the thought that counted, even if the water was practically streaming into the room now.

            Mitchell scoffed and left the room, clapping her on the shoulder. He’d offered to take a quick look at her roof when she’d told Daniel about the miniature leak in her office. How she wished she hadn’t taken him up on it. Not that Evan would’ve done a better job at it- no, he would have. He’d become quite handy on Larsa, and he would certainly not have punched a hole in the roof with a hammer he didn’t need for this kind of job.

            Within minutes Mitchell was back with a big bucket and a mop. She took the mop and shrugged. “Why don’t you go down? I’ll clean this up.”

            “It’s your birthday! You should be at the party!”

         Her brother had shown up, Daniel was drunk after two beers, Vala was thoroughly enjoying that and also playing on Evan’s X-Box with Teal’c, Carter was hiding out in the kitchen to avoid Adam, who was kept busy by Ellen and Roger, and Alex’s team could never, ever find out about this soirée. Not that she hated having all these people around, she didn’t. It just felt weird to have that many visitors over, especially with Evan still in Pegasus. But she knew that was why they were here. To keep her company.

            “You’re sure?” she asked and Mitchell shrugged.

            “I can manage.”

            “That’s what you said about the roof,” she grinned and rushed outside before Mitchell could say another word.

 

Hey Alex,

So, this is how it’s going to go? One paragraph for every day? It really sucks that we don’t have the ZPM anymore, but there you go.

            Murdoch has been complaining, secretly of course, about the new addition to his team. I guess he would’ve liked to keep you around for a bit longer. He’s not the only one, but you already know how I feel. I keep telling him that you fully intend on coming back here as soon as possible, but he said he hates having a team full of soldiers. Apparently having a civilian on board makes being off-world more fun. He’s not wrong. Maybe I should try to get Doctor Schneider to join my team? But she really does seem more comfortable behind her desk.

            Anyway, I finished reading that historical novel. Why is there so much sex in those books? Not that I mind, but seriously? Can you send me the second volume? Or maybe bring it yourself? I wouldn’t mind that.

            The test flight for the Gate Bridge is set for when the Daedalus returns and Sheppard is set to do the flying. Too bad I’m nor going. I would’ve liked to see you ahead of schedule.

            I’ll leave it at this for now. I’ll have more to say tomorrow.

 

The Ancients had rarely set up Gates in deserts, which made the place exceptionally interesting for the geologists who’d come here a couple of days ago, accompanied by Murdoch’s team. Alex would’ve made a great addition here, he thought, and Murdoch had said so. But it just wasn’t in the cards.

            Evan adjusted his sunglasses and surveyed the surrounding area from the top stairs leading up to the Gate. At least it wasn’t as hot as he’d feared. Nothing much to be seen from here, apart from the pillars which had been erected on either side of the Gate and the dunes surrounding the it. The planet’s magnetic field was messing with the Jumpers’ systems. Another reason for the geologists to grow positively excited about going here. Magnetic fields and messed-up sensors made for great material for those guys to explore. Evan remembered all too well how excited the geologists and engineers on that Unas planet had been, especially Ritter.

            God, he wished the geologists hadn’t met the same fate as Ritter.

            “What do we have? You weren’t too specific, Captain.” Murdoch was waiting for them at the bottom of the dais, Fisherman and one of the two new members of his team, whose names Evan didn’t even know yet, by his side. In the transmission Murdoch had been hard to understand due to the massive interference, but the urgency had been more than clear.

            “We set up camp about three clicks South from here, Sir,” Murdoch said. “Doctor Pryce and her team were a across the ridge examining a couple of rocks, apparently there's naquadah here. And then they were just gone. We looked for them, but found nothing.”

            Evan signalled for two of his men to stay at the Gate, feeling that twinge of annoyance in his chest and he remembered O’Neill’s sarcasm from back then. His testy question of whether it was normal for people to just stray away from camp like that. He would almost have asked the same question. But Murdoch was a good officer. He must’ve had his reasons to let the geologists wander off like that. “Why wasn’t one of your men with them?”

            “Sergeant Gray was with them, Major,” Murdoch said without meeting his gaze as they started trudging up the dune, the sand making it hard to move.

            And who was guarding the camp? Probably nobody, but there wasn’t a whole lot to be stolen. Just a bit of equipment and a couple of rocks. “And no unusual activity?”

            “No, Sir. Nobody came through the Gate, Fisherman was watching it. And there weren’t any ships nearby.”

            “Huh.” Finally making it to top of the dune, he felt his heart racing. He did enough cardio usually, but walking through the sand like this sure was exhausting. “Alright, let’s go.”

 

Dear Evan,

Time delay is not my favourite part of our relationship at the moment. I just sent you a really, really long message along with the Daedalus asking you about a billion things and telling you every little aspect of my boring life back on Earth. And it’s not even that boring, just a bit boring and mostly my work here keeps me busy. But you already know that, right? The flowers you planted, you know which ones I mean, have grown quite a bit, but of course they weren’t in bloom anymore when I got back.

It’s been three weeks since my last message reached you, so let me refresh your memory. The European Team is competent and skilled at what they do. Colonel Dubois, Doctor Parra and Captain Dömer are really nice. Suffice it to say, that’s about it. I just can’t fully appreciate them, because I don’t feel like I belong with them. It’s not their fault.

 The paperwork is just about to go through, I hear. I also hear, through various channels (Daniel) that General O’Neill put in a good word for me in the right places. Don’t ask me why he cares so much, but I’m grateful he does.

Oh, and something I haven’t told you yet. The roof is leaking. I was just in the cafeteria, typing up this email and hoping none of my team saw me complaining about having to be on their team at all, when Daniel and Mitchell turned up. Long story, short, they invited themselves over for my birthday (Ellen, Roger and the boys are coming too, by the way) and Mitchell offered to fix the leak. We’ll see how that goes. He grew up on a farm, so he’s bound to be handy, right?

I’ll write the next message as soon as I’ve read the rest of your last one. And... yes, you have already answered all the questions I’ve been meaning to ask. Also, you actually finished reading Outlander? Very admirable. I actually left that book for the base’s library, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Just don’t tell me you’re starting to read the Shopaholic books, because, if you are, I need you to tell me so I have a chance of catching up with you.

How is my sock?

 

Carter was reading the newspaper when Alex joined her. “Sorry, I was just-"

“I know. Sorry about my brother. He can be nice if he really tries.” Unfortunately Adam wasn’t trying hard enough all the time. At least he was trying with Evan these days, and that was a massive win in her eyes. She only wished he hadn’t verbally attacked Carter like that.

Mitchell was just coming down the stairs, threw them one look and then returned to the party.

Carter shrugged and reached for her wine glass. “Don’t apologize for him. He’s old enough.”

“Thank you for not smashing his illusions about knowing all there is to know about engineering.”

“I'm not in the mood to smash someone right now, to be honest.”

Alex nodded. These last couple of years had been exhausting for everyone, but of course it was hardest on the front-line team. Especially since the war with the Ori was as far from being won as ever. “Thanks for coming anyway.”

“No, it's good to get off-base for a normal occasion every once in a while.” Without waiting for confirmation, Carter took a second glass off the counter and poured Alex some wine as well. “Shall we go back to the rest?”

Alex took a sip of her wine and signalled for Carter to go ahead. When they entered the hall, she saw Vala standing on the stairs, looking at the pictures there. Carter squeezed her arm slightly and moved to join her team.

“What happened to her?” Vala asked, looking at the photo of Alex and Evan with Nora. No, where is she, or any other questions Alex would’ve had a hard time answering. The fact that Vala had had a daughter and lost her to the Ori not long ago, had been on Alex’s mind for a while now, but she’d never had the courage to talk to Vala about it. Mostly, because they weren’t close. But also, because she was terrified of the talk.

“You spend so much time on base. No time to read all the mission reports there?” She leaned against the railing. Vala’s eyes were fixed on the photograph, a look of sincerity in her eyes Alex had never seen there. Sincerity. Regret. Sadness.

The picture was one of the few photographs on their walls. Most of the other pictures were drawings which Evan had made. Alex had taken a few of them with her back home. Pictures of the scenery on the mainland, pictures of the city. He’d taken to sketching and painting the city more than people recently. That photo had been taken by Evan’s mother shortly after Nora had been rescued.

“Not exactly exciting reads,” Vala said, taking the picture off the wall without asking for permission and sitting down on the stairs. “They’re not good writers these scholars and soldiers. Well, apart from O’Neill. He’s pretty good actually.”

After hesitating for just a moment, Alex went to sit down to Vala. “She died,” Alex said and when Vala looked at her, she felt that twinge of recognition of loss. Swallowing hard, she looked into the next room, at Evan’s family gathered there with SG-1.

“Why would that be in a mission report?”

 

Alex,

This is already the tenth message in this very, very long message. Only about twenty more messages until I get the next one from you. Not a whole lot has happened since the last time. I had some kind of Pegasus flu and Beckett had me in the infirmary over the last weekend, which is why I haven’t written since then. But I’m doing all better now. Maybe because I started reading HP again? Oh, those Shopaholic books have been hijacked by Anna. Never thought she’d be into that kind of… stuff. Oh, well. I hope it’s okay I let them have her? I’m almost sure she’ll give them back to you. Talking of which, I have a theory about HP. I’ll tell you when you’re back.

Last night I was rung out of bed by Radek. My radio wasn’t working, so he came to fetch me himself. He made a comment on my weird choice of socks. Guess that was some kind of Czech humour I’m not getting. I should wash the pair, I guess, but I’m terrified of losing yours.

Sheppard and I have worked out a new schedule for the security teams and did some editing of the security protocols with McKay’s help. Guess who’s gonna have to present them to Doctor Weir? Yep, me. I’ll do that tomorrow. You’ll like them, I’m sure. ;). Oh, and the blinking lights on the new security cams are slightly more orange! McKay insisted. He said they look less hostile and are also a lot better definition-wise. I believe him.

Yep, I have to go now. Apparently some geologists went missing. Be back soon!

 

“Listen,” Evan leant on the counter, ignoring the dirty glass the barman placed in front of him. Murdoch was by his side, keeping an eye on the crowd, just in case this was going badly. “We heard a couple of people recently came through here.”

            “A lot of people come through here,” the barman said, eying Evan suspiciously. His tavern was pretty full for this time of day and the smell of stale smoke, spilled beer and greasy food, all covering up slight traces of vomit and dust, were almost enough to turn Evan’s stomach. The rest of the team was outside, watching the tavern and their way out. How the geologists had been taken, Evan couldn’t say, neither could anyone else. And why had they just taken the scientists and left the military personnel behind? They’d been looking for the four men for about two weeks now.

            “Yes, I get that,” Evan conceded, “but you’re sure you don’t want to help us?” He reached into his vest and produced a small pouch of currency. It was pretty hard to come by for the Atlantis expedition, but for instances such as these it was given out. And the intel from one of the Athosian traders had been enough for Weir to hand over the money.           

            He weighed the pouch in his hand, letting the metal cling softly.

            The barman’s eyebrows moved up and he shook his head. “I have no idea how much is in there.”

            Evan raised an eyebrow, produced one of the larger coins and slammed it on the wooden bar in front of him. “Now?”

            The man snorted and shrugged. He slid the coin over the rough surface. “Who’re you looking for?”

 

Well, yesterday was my birthday and I just took Adam to the airport. Ellen, Roger and the boys are still around. It’s getting easier to be around them. The kids, I mean. I suppose that’s a good thing. But they look so much like you, Simon especially. Roger keeps insisting Simon has your artistic skills. Yeah, well, he proved that by drawing on the wallpaper in the guest room. I’ll just leave it there, so you have something to admire when you get here for Christmas.

The day before yesterday Landry called me into his office to inform me about Hera. Nothing we didn’t already know. Won’t go into details though. Somebody’s bound to be reading this.

Apart from that there haven’t been any news. Well, except that Ba’al has about a trillion clones by now. If we catch one of them, I’ll make sure to get a private word in. You know what I mean. We talked about that already.

I was just reassigned to SG-8 for now. Yep, I’m now an American citizen. Needless to say, Colonel Dubois wasn’t too happy about letting me go, but there you go. Like I said, they’re decent guys, but I don’t regret this decision. Now we only have to wait for the IOA to clear me to go to Pegasus again. But before that, the new team and I are going on a mission. Some refugees made contact with the Alpha Site via the Jaffa. We’re off to talk to them in about an hour. I just hope Ellen, Roger and the kids won’t be mad at me for leaving them like this. But they know our job is crazy.

 

The man snorted and spat on the ground. The bruise on his forehead where Murdoch had hit him was dark red against the pale skin. As he swallowed, the tattoo on his Adam’s apple stood out and Evan recognized it. “You’re a Wraith Worshipper,” he stated. They’d picked him off the street and taken him to this clearing in the adjoining forest. An empty storehouse would’ve been better for this interrogation, but they just didn’t have the time.

            Having finished tying the man up, Fisherman stood back and nodded at Evan. All done there.

            “What do you want from me?”

            “Did you take our people?” He didn’t have time for this. Sheppard had just radioed in. The expedition was heading back to Earth and the clock was ticking. They’d have to be back on Atlantis within twelve hours. Why this was happening, Sheppard didn’t have the time to explain, and Evan didn’t have time to question his orders. They needed to get Doctor Pryce and the other geologists and fast. But this place was a trading post and the goods that were traded here were people. For all Evan knew, this man could’ve resold their guys already. They could be headed to yet another planet.

            The man snorted again. His dark green eyes full of contempt.

            “You know, I don’t really like head hunters. And I’m beyond shooting you in the leg,” Evan said, knowing his team mates wouldn’t betray him if he did. He lowered his gun and aimed it for the man’s knee. Two weeks they’d been hunting for the scientists. Two weeks. And now they only had a couple of hours left. And he wasn’t going to be the one responsible for leaving their people behind. He’d been through this himself. Those guys were counting on them.

            “I’m sure you’re not,” the man breathed through clenched teeth. “Only problem is, are you going to do that before, or after my men shoot you in the neck?”

 

Colonel Andrews took the lead, Major Brackley right behind him. Really, the forest they were trudging through didn’t look unlike the countless woods she’d been to before, even though Evan would most likely have disagreed with her. He had a different view of the world, of shapes and colours.

            Lieutenant Esposito was walking beside her, watching their surroundings as they followed the narrow footpath leading away from the Gate. An ambush could happen at any time, they knew that, especially since they’d been called here. Colonel Pierce from the Alpha Site had given them the exact location where the refugees were waiting for them, and he’d sent a team from his contingent to have their backs. They were watching the Gate right now.

            Esposito didn’t talk much. Brackley was the chatty one usually, Alex had found out, but not today. Today, the more sound they made, the easier it would be for enemies to spot them, if there were any. She really hoped there weren’t.

            The clearing they’d been sent to wasn’t too far from the Gate and Alex’s eyes fixed on the tents immediately. They were of familiar design, though she couldn’t quite place them. She’d seen that fabric before. Tents… she had to focus on those. Just two of them. About ten people were in front of them, all men, all of them facing them with grim expressions. But no weapons. And then her eyes fixated on the one man approaching them and her heart missed a beat. His planet was supposed to be fully converted by the Ori.

            Alex swallowed hard and pushed past the Colonel to meet him. Refugees who knew about the Alpha Site. Of course. “Jonas!”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

2006

“Hey.” Jonas was smiling, but the expression didn’t reach his blue eyes. He had a bandage wrapped around his neck and his sleeve was ripped. The people with him didn’t look much better. In the dim morning light, they all looked pale and as though they hadn’t slept or eaten in days. The tents, by the looks of it, were all they’d managed to bring with them. The couple of guns carefully stacked in a corner of the tent, were all the extra equipment they’d brought.

            “I thought you were dead.”

            Jonas nodded, making her stomach lurch. No extending his arms to hug her, no explanation. What it must have cost him to get off Langara. What it must feel like for him to lose his home for a second time. Permanently this time.

            “Jonas Quinn?” Andrews asked behind her and Alex took a step to the side to make room for him.

            Jonas nodded again. “Thanks for coming, Colonel Andrews,” Jonas said. “We didn’t know who else to contact. We just barely made it off-world.”

            “Langara has been fully converted,” a younger man next to Jonas said with a quivering voice. “We held the bunker where the Stargate was kept for as long as we could, but-“ he broke off.

            “We were fifty originally,” Jonas said hoarsely. “More on the rest of the planet, but we couldn’t reach them.” His jaw was clenched, his eyes cold. Alex sensed that just talking about it was hard. “Not with the war going on again. This is all the equipment we managed to bring.” The chilliness in Jonas’ voice made her mouth go dry. His homeworld had only just started to recover from the cold war raging on it for hundreds of years, they’d only just started coming together. And the Ori must have divided them again.

They did that. In order to make more people convert, or to force them to convert.

            Next to her, Andrews shifted uncomfortably, but he nodded. “Why didn’t you tell us who you were?”

            Jonas snorted. “Would you’ve have believed me? With everything that’s going on in the galaxy?”

            “Sir,” Brackley spoke up, “shall I go back to the Gate and make the call?” The call to ask whether they could take these refugees through. Or whether they had to remain here. Who could say what would happen these days? But at least Landry knew who Jonas was. They’d be kept in isolation for a couple of days, but they’d be allowed to come with them, Alex was sure of it. And then what?

            Andrews eyed Jonas, then looked over at Alex. What was that supposed to mean? She couldn’t read the man. Unsure of what was expected of her, she nodded. “Jonas, can we talk?”

            A brief smile flickered almost imperceptibly over Andrews’ face, before he ordered Brackley to go back to the Gate.

            Jonas looked at her, his eyes almost dull in the bright sunlight. He nodded briefly, motioned for his people to stay and then at Alex to follow her to one of the tents.

 

One of Murdoch’s men, Smith, was the first to fall. A clean shot to the neck. They drew together so they were standing back to back, Fisherman pushing their prisoner to the ground. They acted in unison, clear, well-rehearsed movements, which wouldn’t help them at all in this situation.

            The shots were coming from three different directions, so there had to be at least three enemies. Evan kept his P-90 raised, his eyes trained on the underbrush and trees surrounding them, watching for movements. The next shot rang out, making dirt splash up like a fountain, only centimetres fromhis feet and Evan returned fire, straight into a bush, where a couple of leaves had shifted ever so slightly. A bloody face broke through the twigs and leaves, collapsing in a heap on the ground.

“He’s dead!” Fisherman shouted, but Evan didn’t have to turn around to know who Fisherman was talking about. Their prisoner wasn’t moving anymore.

            Murdoch’s shoulder was touching his and then the next salvo was fired at them. No automatic weapons fire. That was something. But Fisherman was down, but just on his knees, still aiming at the trees. Not dead. Not yet.

            Evan cursed as Murdoch opened fire into the shadows. Two men down. This really couldn’t end well.

 

Landry and Carter were waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp. Carter was even smiling slightly at Jonas, but he didn’t return the gesture, just shook hands with the two of them. The stiffness in his body made it hard to watch this reunion.

            “Thank you for letting us through,” he said.

            Before, Jonas had almost always been cheerful, had never said a really bad word about anybody, even when people had offended him outright, but this new Jonas was creeping her out. The things he must have seen and experienced on his home world had changed him. And no, she hadn’t expected him to turn up again, but to see him changed like this, hurt almost as badly as the thought of him being dead.

            “Sure. Doctor Lam is waiting to examine you in the infirmary. SG-8, we’ll debrief in one hour.”

            Jonas nodded. She’d talked to him briefly as Brackley went back to the Gate, but he hadn’t been particularly forthcoming. They’d escaped from Langara the previous day. Storming the bunker, trying to get off-world with as many people as possible, to try and reach the SGC and ask for help. To fight back. To get rid of the invaders, but Jonas had little hope for his people now. A hatchet like theirs could be buried, but trust after rebuilding was destroyed far too easily. And there wouldn’t be a second chance for them. He was sure of that. And he’d put so much effort into building this new government. Into creating peace. And here he was. Stranded back on Earth, with no hope this time. Nothing to bargain with.

            Carter met her gaze and Alex shrugged helplessly.

 

The ambush ended as quickly as it had started. One of the men who’d attacked them was still breathing. His chest heaving, his eyes staring up into the sky, he ignored them. He bore the same tattoo their first prisoner had. They had to get away from here, to a more secure location. They had to get their wounded and dead through the Gate. But as soon as they stepped through the Gate, there wouldn’t be any turning around, he was almost sure. If they were abandoning Pegasus, then that meant abandoning their people as well.

            “Sir?” Murdoch asked and of course he was right. Fisherman was wounded. He couldn’t stand. He needed Beckett and fast.

            “Let’s grab these two and get away from here,” he said. He’d just have to take a chance. But not just yet. They couldn’t take a prisoner back to Atlantis, not when the place was bein evacuated, or abandoned, or whatever the hell was happening back there. Evan stepped over to the wounded enemy and looked down at him. The man wouldn’t tell them how many were out there, but it was clear they were gone only to get backup. “Where are our people,” he asked curtly. “The scientists you took.”

            The man laughed briefly, a trace of blood the width of a hair trickling out of the corner of his mouth. Dark against pale skin.

            “Where are they?” Murdoch’s voice was controlled, firm. Maybe too much so.

            Evan stared down on the man, into those dark green eyes full of contempt. He had a feeling their guys were lost to them. The intel about this place and that people in their uniforms had been spotted here was only a few hours old, but with instantaneous travel between planets, that trail might already be stone cold. He knew that. But he didn’t want to accept it.

            He knelt down, so he was closer to the man’s face. Doctor Pryce, he remembered, was incredible at chess. Why that fact just hit him, he didn’t know, but he refused to even think that it was because in moments like these you remembered the stupidest things about a person. Doctor Pryce had a dog back home. He didn’t know anything else about the team, but those facts made him grab the man by the collar and pull him up a bit. The man scoffed, more blood spluttering from his mouth. They weren’t going to lose any more people.

            “If you’re Wraith Worshippers,” he began quietly, softly shaking the man, so he groaned in pain, “why try and sell them as slaves, when you could feed them to your masters instead?”

            “We need to make a living every once in a while.” The man gasped, his eyes squeezed shut. Evan was hurting him, but Evan didn’t care.

            “I’m asking you again,” he said. “Where are they now? Tell me, and I’ll let you go, maybe even leave you a medical kit. Some pain killers? How does that sound?”

 

The coffee was bitter. It had probably been standing on that heating plate for hours, but she didn’t care much. It would do the job and that’s what counted. The debriefing had been over quickly enough and now she was waiting for her turn to speak with Jonas. Sam was already in there, Alex had talked to two of the other refugees. According to Doctor Lam, there was no trace of the Priors’ Plague in their systems, and they’d all been given a clean bill of health. Apart from that, their stories matched. There really should be no reason to keep them confined like this any longer.

Their society had been taken over by the Ori, after about forty percent of the population had been killed by the virus. After months of fighting in the underground, they’d managed to gather a small task force, meaning to storm the bunker, clear a path and get as many people offworld as possible. But the Gate had been better protected that anyone could’ve anticipated and just the ten of them had made it off Langara. Now the Gate was inaccessible. They were stranded here. All of them strong and able-bodied and willing to fight. Jonas had been there before. But then his world hadn't been occupied by an enemy this powerful and this capable of making people follow them unwaveringly.

But she wasn’t just waiting for a chance to talk to Jonas again. There was also that significant piece of news which had reached Earth about three hours previously. Somewhere, in the void spanning between the Pegasus and the Milky Way Galaxies, the Daedalus had actually, inexplicably, run into a ship full of Ancients, travelling from Lantea to Earth at lightspeed. Daniel had been positively psyched by the news, but it’d been Woolsey and O'Neill who'd travelled to Atlantis to talk to them via the newly-tested Gate Bridge. And the talk had been short to say the least. The Ancients wanted their city back and that meant the Tau'ri had to leave. Not just to leave the city, but the whole galaxy.

Like what they'd accomplished there was nothing.

Like it had been nothing but child's play and now that the adults were back, the children had to return to their own room and leave the run of the house to the parents.

But at least, she thought, Evan would be coming back. That was something. They’d be back together sooner than either of them would’ve thought possible. Even if he was bound to be disappointed at having to leave. She felt the same. There was still so much to do in Pegasus. Well, not that there wasn’t a lot to do here…

“Alex?” Carter knocked on her office door and came in. They’d started using first names at Alex’s small birthday party, but she hadn’t managed to call Colonel Carter by her first name yet. Not in her mind anyway.

“Yeah.” Alex rubbed her eyes and sat up straight. ”What’d he say?”

“He says he needs some rest and I can’t exactly blame him. We’ve been interrogating him and his people for hours.”

Alex nodded thoughtfully and got to her feet. Well, she might as well go home and tell Ellen and Roger that Evan was coming back. They might want to stay a few extra days, then. “Thanks for letting me know. Is there anything I can do?”

With a shrug, Carter leaned in the doorframe. “Not really. He seems changed, somehow.”

Alex grunted. “I know… still the same guy, but with less enthusiasm. He’s been through hell.”

“Yes, he has.”

“Do you think they’ll let them stay?”

“Why not? If he wants to? He’s earned our trust, that’s for sure. He deserves it.”

Alex had to agree. She, too, owed Jonas. Not just as an inhabitant of Earth, but also as a friend. Jonas had come back from Langara to help in the search for Nora. He’d been wounded because of it. And she’d help him now. If she could. If he let her.

“Well,” she murmured, closing her laptop and the message she’d been meaning to send to Evan. Should she just print it out now and give it to him? “I’m gonna go home then.”

“You do that. Say hi to your sister-in-law and her husband, will you?”

“Sure. Thanks.”

Carter left then, leaving Alex to tidy up a bit before going home. Ellen and Roger would probably still be up, when Alex got back. She had to admit, it was nice to know that someone was waiting for her, even though she did not look forward to having to share Evan straight away. But he’d been missing his sister and his nephews. She knew that. And Simon and Paul barely knew their uncle. It was high time he spent some time with them.

She locked up, changed into her civilian clothes and headed towards the elevator, checked herself out and just as she’d reached her car, her phone rang. Probably her mom, asking her for the umpteenth time when she’d be coming to visit.

Alex picked up without looking at the caller-ID. Car keys in hand, she stood in the parking lot and pressed the phone to her ear. “Hey, Mum, sorry, can’t talk right now. I-“

“Alex?”

She almost dropped her phone. It wasn’t her mum. That voice was most definitely male and she didn’t recognize it. It sounded tired and scared. “Who is this?” she asked, forcing her own voice to remain steady and calm. Not an easy task. “Hello?”

“Alex,” a short sniffing sound. “Alex, it’s Javier.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

2006

            “Javier?” The two syllables barely made it past her lips. He was calling her.

            He was calling her!

            Apparently crying!

            After he’d pretended not to remember her name!

            She gulped down her anger, the urge to smash her phone on the tarmac. There were cameras trained on her. And probably somebody was tapped into their connection. As far as she knew, Javier was still under surveillance, even if his daily routine hadn’t changed. She checked up on his file regularly, though, of course, that was no guarantee she was getting all the information. They hadn’t told her and Evan about Hera until a few weeks ago after all.

            “Javier, what do you want from me?”

            A deep breath on the other end. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to remember how much she’d liked Javier back in the day. Back, when he’d been Evan’s colleague and when he’d been her friend.

            “I can’t reach Evan.”

            “Yes, he’s working.” Small euphemism, but who gave a damn, really. “What do you want?”

            “Can we meet up?”

 

By now he was glad they’d all returned to Atlantis. He really needed to start having faith in his comrades again. Fisherman had been taken to the infirmary, their prisoner to a holding cell, Smith’s body was being taken care of and Sheppard dispatched ten marines to assist them in the rescue attempt. Of course they couldn’t just leave an enemy behind like this, but for once Evan didn’t care about keeping his word. That stranger could rot in that holding cell for all he cared. The Ancients surely didn’t think too well of Wraith Worshippers.

            They were lying in wait now looking down on a small village consisting of about twenty houses and several huge barns attached to them. Just another one of these villages, but Evan remembered too well what it felt like to live in a dwelling like that. He could still practically smell it. And his memories weren’t all bad.

            “Any idea where to look first?”

            It was hard to say. It was the middle of the night, but the moons bathing their surroundings in their pale light, made everything easier to spot. It would be incredibly hard to approach any of these houses undetected, if the people set up a night watch. And that was very probable, given that they kept slaves.

            “I don’t,” Evan grumbled, thinking grimly about their streak of bad luck recently. Why- why did Ancients have to appear here now? And why did they want them off Atlantis so quickly?!

            He lowered his own binoculars and signalled for Murdoch to get down and into the Jumper where the Marines were waiting for them, but he stayed, surveying the village, the light peeking through several closed shutters. These places could get pretty drafty, and it would be getting cold here soon, he could smell it. He didn’t know anything about the people living here, but he was pretty sure they weren’t buying slaves for their own amusement. They needed the work force, especially with the threat of the Wraith looming over them. A culling could decimate a village like this within minutes, and then who remained behind to tend to the fields and the animals? One look at the ground told him that this world, or at least this area, didn’t yield its crop as readily as it did in other places. He swallowed hard. Seven months stuck in an agricultural society had taught him more than he thought he would ever know. There’d been an area near their village on Larsa, which was clear of trees and where nothing but grass grew properly and the topsoil here looked a lot like it did there. This place wasn’t wealthy, and their connection to the Wraith Worshippers probably meant that they had to produce more than they needed, not just for winter storage, but to keep their occupiers at bay. These farmers probably weren’t even bad people. They were just stuck between a rock and a hard place.

At least those were his theories and he hoped they were true. Had he still believed in souls, he would’ve hoped it for their sake. If they enjoyed what they were doing, he’d only regret holding back. Their guys needed to get out of here, no questions asked. And he’d shed blood if he had to get them out. Smith hadn’t died in vain.

            He glanced around one more time, then he followed Murdoch down the hill and into the cloaked Jumper.

 

At least it wasn’t raining or snowing. That was the only comfort she could take right now as she was sitting on the bench in the park, watching a group of dogs, their owners and their trainer going through some routine exercises. Their hierarchy was all too clear and the trainer, a thin woman of about fifty, had the loudest bark and the youngest trainee with the smallest dog was on the other end of the food chain. Maybe it was the fact that they were in a city which also held a huge military academy, but that girl didn't even think about talking back, no matter how rudely that trainer shouted at her.

            Alex leaned back, forcing herself not to think about the fact that Evan should be returning to Earth right about now, or that one of Agent Barrett's cronies was watching her from the other side of the park from inside a comfortably warm van.

            The earpiece was well hidden, so were the microphones underneath her blouse and jacket. But still Javier must be expecting her to show up with backup. She wouldn't have dreamed of trying to make this meeting happen without the approval of the Air Force and the protection of the NID. Javier, too, was backed by a powerful organization and no matter how desperate he sounded on the phone, she couldn't let herself be lured into a false sense of security. Especially not when the NID had contacted her seconds after Javier had hung up, and not, when she knew what Evan’s reaction would be if he ever found out she’d even attempted at doing this alone.

            “Nothing yet. Stay put,” the voice in her ear said. At least this agent Scrivener had been less rude than Barrett had been. Maybe because there was no Evan here whom he could address before even thinking about talking to Alex directly.

            “Easy for you to say,” she murmured, “in your nice cosy van with the donuts.”

            “You could’ve taken some coffee along, you know.”

            “Too late now,” she said, getting up, to at least give her feet the feeling that they were still alive. They’d come here early, yes, but Javier was running late, and she could barely feel her toes anymore.

            The obedience school on the wide stretch of frozen lawn in front of her was now going through another exercise. About ten teams, one dog and their owner in each one, were placed in intervals in a straight line, all of them looking displeased at the cold and three of them even looked annoyed at their watches, trying to determine when their time would be up. The last couple, a dalmatian and its overweight owner now had to do a slalom around the other couples. Alex stood still, watching them and grateful she’d never had to do this with Monsieur. And she doubted Evan would’ve done something like this.

            And suddenly the hair on her neck was standing on end. Slowly, her skin tingling and wishing she’d brought her sidearm, she turned around.

 

It was strange to feel the breeze of the Jumper taking off without hearing or seeing it, but Zheng would be doing a good job. Evan signalled for the others to split up into teams, while he stuck with Murdoch.

            They moved in silence, but they didn’t need to speak. They knew where the others were and where they needed to move and they needed to hurry up if they wanted to be in position by the time Zheng set off the distraction.

            Evan slipped a bit on the way down the opposite side of the hill, but Murdoch steadied him readily enough. “What if they’re not here?” Murdoch whispered so quietly Evan could barely hear him.

Shaking his head, Evan stood still for a moment. The grass beneath his feet was almost crunchy and he heard the rustling of mice, or whatever kind of vermin inhabited this planet and raided the farmers’ storages. “Let’s not think about that, okay?”

“Just sayin’. If we don’t find them, we’ll have caused a hell of a lot damage for no reason.”

Evan pressed his lips together. “They’re slave owners, Captain.”

“Yes, and those slaves will starve with them.”

He nodded. Well, that couldn’t be helped. “There are other planets,” he said. Other places to plant crops and raise cattle. These people would just have to adjust. Evan didn’t have the time or the patience to worry about that sort of thing right now. “And we won’t be here to deal with the repercussions.”

“Yeah,” Murdoch muttered, looking over at the house they’d be looking into. At the  locked up small barn next to it. They just needed to wait for their sign. It couldn’t be long now. And after about another five minutes, a couple of giant blasts sent the pasture on the other side of the village ablaze. Yes, the grass was bone-dry, just like he’d suspected. Cattle roared in panic, the grass caught fire and a couple of extra drones would guarantee that these people would be busy spending the rest of the night trying to salvage their fields.

But Evan didn’t have it in him to smile. He just nodded at Murdoch and told the others via radio that they had to move in as soon as the villagers started rushing outside to quench the multiple fires.

 

The hazel eyes were the first thing to capture her attention. She’d expected to be terrified to see him again, especially here and now, but the smugness on his face, the face which regularly appeared in her nightmares, only made her stomach lurch a little. She stood there, unfazed, just looking at the man, hands in her pockets, and that terrified her. “You're not Javier.”

            “No.” And that was it. That was all he had to say?! Well, of  course it was. He'd thought little enough of her before. Or had it even been him? She doubted she was standing in front of the original Ba'al. And where the hell were Scrivener and his team? They must have seen him approach her, they must hear him now.

            “What do you want?” She crossed her arms over her chest, aching for the heaviness of a semi-automatic in her hand. What could he want from her? She didn’t dare ask about Javier, the tremor in his voice was still in her ear, even more so, as she watched Ba’al take a step towards her. In his tailored suit and dark brown woollen coat, he looked like any other businessman in the street, and as he reached for her elbow, she saw how immaculate his fingernails were. She took a step to the side. “You heard me.”

            He raised an eyebrow at her and shook his head. “Yes, I did. I wanted to thank you.”

            “Thank me!” she spat at him, close to turning around and storming in the opposite direction. But he wouldn’t have come here without backup either. She was sure of that.

            “Yes, well, I found that research you did. I must say, I’m flattered. I just need another small favour.”

            “Drop dead.” She had that strange feeling that Scrivener wouldn’t be coming to her aid now. Not anymore. He would’ve closed in by now if he could’ve. He would have said something at the very least. She shrugged and started walking, but Ba’al didn’t stay put. He was right there next to her, and before she knew it, he’d wrapped his arm about her waist. Without thinking, without even considering it for a single moment, she balled her hand into a fist, but before her fist could connect with his jaw, he caught it and held it tight, his hand so strong, she felt a sharp pain screeching from her knuckles, up to her arm.

            “Well, I should have expected that,” he muttered, drawing closer and forcing her hand down. “Doctor Lorne, if you don’t want to die here and now, I suggest you stop acting like an unwilling hostage.”

            “If I don’t want to die here and now,” she repeated testily, “so you’re going to kill me somewhere else, another time?” She started pulling back, but he wouldn’t let her go. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the van. The dark finish almost grey in the cool November air. Scrivener was leaving! Her heart was beating so fast, she could barely breathe.

            The carefully plucked eyebrows rose slowly. “You don’t have to die at all, my dear. I did just say I need your help, didn’t I?”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

2006

No matter how many doors they broke down, no matter how many rooms they searched, finding Doctor Pryce and her team was impossible. After about twenty minutes, when all their teams had searched the houses and found nobody but scared children, elderly people and a couple of people who’d been locked up, he had to call it off. They wouldn’t find their people here.

            Evan’s heart was pounding as he looked down at a girl of about fifteen, holding a two-year-old child in her arms. She looked up at him, her eyes so wide and full of fear, he felt sick. She was expecting him to do something unspeakable to her. She looked defeated, scared, if not downright terrified and he just hoped the similarity between her and that kid was because it was her younger sibling and not her own child. Her lip was trembling and her dark eyes so wide, he had to force himself not to stare into them or stretch out his hand to comfort her. The twenty or so people behind her had all gotten up from their cots to stare at the intruders. The door hadn’t even been hard to break down, but the lock had been on the outside and these people had no means of opening it.

 Evan shook his head. The rags she was wearing suggested that she was not, in fact, one of the villagers, as did the numbness in her eyes.

            The last report had just come in. The Marines hadn’t found anything either. Just a couple of scared and helpless people.

            “Don’t be afraid,” he said as calmly as he could and as the girl moved, he saw that her belly was bigger than it should be, given her stature. He swallowed hard and lowered his weapon. Murdoch was watching the door. He pressed the button on his radio. “Let’s head back,” he said, “And let’s take the prisoners with us if they want to come.”

            He nodded at the girl, cursing himself for having stormed into this little shed as they had. “Do you want to get away from here?” he asked, not just looking at her, but at the other women and the few men that were locked up here. Just looking at the girl, he rather felt like burning down the house to which this shed was attached, but he also remembered the baby sleeping in the main room in there.

            No, he couldn’t destroy it all, but he could offer these people’s workforce to get away from here. That was something.

            The girl moved back from him, her feet trailing over the floor, shuffling the straw to the side.

            “Where are you taking us?” The terror in the voice of the woman speaking now, made his insides clench. They thought he and Murdoch were raiders. That they’d just take them somewhere else to be fed upon, or to be enslaved by somebody else. And he had little to no patience to talk this through with them.

            “Listen, we’re not here to hurt you. We’re just going to leave this door open, and if you want to come along, go somewhere, go back home, that’ll be fine. We just have to get you through the Gate first.”

            “The Ring,” Murdoch corrected him, back turned to the group.

            “Right. The Ring of the Ancestors. Whatever.”

            “And then what?”

            Only just so did Evan manage to hold back an exasperated sigh. If these people insisted on staying here, it was on them. They were wasting time here- time which they were losing in the search for their science team. He felt sick just thinking about it. “Then you’ll be free to go wherever you want. Seriously, do you want to stay here, or do you want to go back to your homes?”

 

In the end only around five of the prisoners decided to come with them, the girl not among them. They took them to an uninhabited world and waited until they were safely gone through, before dialling Atlantis again. The fire from the burning fields had spread to one of the barns, just as they’d left the village. Evan could only hope they hadn’t inadvertently killed anybody who didn’t deserve it.

            He set down the Jumper in the Bay, shut it down and remained seated for a moment. Nobody within moved for a whole minute, as they all sat there, thinking about the fact that this was very likely the last time any of them would ever sit in one of these things again. He would certainly miss it. If the F-302s were a joy to fly, then these things were a blast. Of course they were bigger, but still even more manoeuvrable and a lot more practical, and he only sometimes missed the Gs pulling at his guts during battle, but the sheer easiness with which the Jumpers responded to his every thought, made him miss them already.

But that wasn’t the worst bit. He’d be the one to have to tell the families of the scientists the bad news, if he couldn’t convince Sheppard or O’Neill, or whoever was in charge right now, to let them keep searching. Probably neither of them was in charge. And he wasn’t exactly looking forward to begging the Ancients to let him stay.

            He got up and nodded at Murdoch who was sitting in the other front seat, while Zheng was tending to Sergeant Farlane, who’d encountered one of the villagers and had managed to get his wrist broken in a short fight on their way to the Gate. Zheng was just better with medical emergencies like these than anybody else on this strike force. Murdoch looked out the viewport, then got up as well. “Want me to come with you, Sir?”

            Evan shook his head. “Start packing, Captain,” he said, “the rest of you as well. I’ll let you know if we get to head out again.” He nodded at Farlane, briefly touched his shoulder and then moved to the back of the Jumper. The hatch opened, and for once there was no Zelenka or McKay waiting for them to inspect the Jumper or complain about how he or anybody else didn’t take care of them.

            Instead, he straightened his shoulders, when the Captain of the Tria, Helia, stepped into view. He’d seen her only the first time he’d come back with Murdoch and the others, and she’d agreed to let them put their prisoner into the cell, but she’d also warned them to speed up their search. How was it that, after years of the Tau’ri doing their best to protect this city and the Ancients’ legacy, these people just turned out to be such massive jerks? Weren’t the Ancients revered by the people of both their galaxies? When was it time for them to step up to people’s expectations. But then again, Evan thought grimly, these people weren’t the ascended beings people thought about when they talked about the Ancients. These were just ordinary people who’d never managed to ascend. They were just like him, or Murdoch, or literally everybody else on this planet. With the only difference of course, that this was their home. But still, this city was big enough to house thousands upon thousands of people. Why couldn’t they just let them stay?

            “Major Lorne, I see you’ve returned without success.” Her voice was calm, but her eyes searched the inside of the ship with some concern in them.

            “To be honest, I was hoping to speak to you about that, Ma’am.” He’d much rather have done this in Weir’s office, or literally anywhere else with a closed door, but here would have to do, by the looks of it. He looked over his shoulder at the Marines, Murdoch and Nabi and ignored the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. They’d failed. They’d lost people in the process, but he still wasn’t about to let this go. He waved at the Marines to go ahead and leave the Jumper and Helia seemed to sense his desire to have the others leave before broaching the subject again, because she just fixed her pale eyes on him and didn’t speak until everybody was out of earshot.

            “You want to remain here to keep looking for your people.” It was a statement, not a question and he wasn’t at all satisfied with the tone of voice in which she spoke to him. It somehow reminded Evan of a drill officer he’d known back at the Academy and he found himself standing at attention automatically.

            “Yes, Ma’am.” What was he doing here? She was not his superior! The way she carried her authority was truly impressive. But still, he felt like O’Neill should be here for this conversation as well.

            “Rest assured that we will keep looking for them. We fully intend on getting your people back to you.”

            “That’s not good enough,” Evan protested. “We don’t leave our people behind like that.” They couldn’t. He couldn’t. Not after what he’d been through.

            “Major-“

            “I’m not discussing this with you,” he practically spat at her, immediately regretting his tone. But she wasn’t his boss, and she certainly had no authority over him, so damn her. He wouldn’t just give up. And neither would Sheppard or O’Neill. His mouth was dry as he nodded curtly and barely kept himself from saluting before walking away and practically running into Sheppard on his way to the stairs. He only just took a step back before he could lose his balance and fall into his superior officer’s chest. “Sorry, Sir.” He cleared his throat.

            “Lorne. I heard,” Sheppard said, jerking his chin down the stairs. “She’s still insisting on us leaving?”

            “That’s what she said,” Evan grumbled, following him past the Control Room and to the transporter leading away from the Gate Room below. “Where’re we going?”

            “They took over all the major controls the moment they arrived.” Sheppard looked up to the balustrade, where Helia was standing now, surveying them carefully before the transporter doors opened. The rest of his team must already be in the armoury.

            “She said they’d take over the search.”

            Sheppard snorted. “Yeah, because our people are their top priority.”

            “Sir, I’d like to stay. There must be a way to establish an off-world base here. We can’t just abandon Pryce and her team.”

            Sheppard nodded grimly and tapped the control panel behind them. Next second they were three levels down, where none of the Ancients was lurking about in the dimly lit corridor leading towards the main armoury. Already Airmen were starting to pack up the equipment, which would be transported back to Earth via Daedalus. “I recommended something like that to Woolsey.” Sheppard’s unhappy smirk already told him that the idea hadn’t struck Woolsey as a good one. “But since the Atlantis Gate is the only one capable of dialling home, we’d be stranded there until the Gate Bridge is complete. And don’t have the proper equipment to set up a proper base of operations right now. It’ll take a while to assemble, probably. But it’s being taken into consideration. But the Atlantis expedition itself is pretty much dead.”

            “So we’re just going to leave them. Great.” He balled his hands into fists and had to take a deep, steadying breath. “Sir, this isn’t what we do.”

            “I know,” Sheppard said. “Murdoch and a team of Marines is staying with the Athosians to keep searching with them. He volunteered.”

            “When did that happen?” Evan stood in his tracks, staring at Sheppard. Murdoch couldn’t have more than a head start of five minutes on him. And he couldn’t exactly start arguing with his superior officer in a corridor packed with Marines and Airmen sorting through equipment and stacking boxes.

            Sheppard waved his hand in front of a door sensor to reveal an already empty storage room. Stepping inside, he waved Evan to follow him and shut the door behind him again. “Listen-“

            “Sir, why is Murdoch staying and not me? I can’t give up on them.”

            “I know, Major, I read your file.” A quick look of understanding passed between them. Sheppard knew he and Alex had been left behind once. Of course he did. And Evan had heard the story about Sheppard’s near-court martial after trying to rescue a comrade in Afghanistan.

            Evan fell silent, almost biting on his tongue to keep a flippant remark from flying from his lips. “Sir?”

            Sheppard’s eyes flew to the door and then back to Evan. “And we’re not giving up on Pryce and her team. The Daedalus will be coming back in regular intervals to check up on Murdoch, but you need to get back to Earth straight away.”

            “Colonel, I-“

            “Landry requested you specifically. It’s got something to do with an NID investigation, but they want you there early. You leave in an hour.”

 

Chapter Text

2006

Hadn’t the Ancients brought their ZPMs, getting back to Earth would've taken weeks upon weeks. But this way, near instantaneous travel was once again possible, though Evan didn’t take the time to admire this new turn of events.

Javier was supposed to meet Alex in the park near their home, but there hadn't been any communication between Agent Scrivener and Agent Barrett for five minutes before Evan even stepped through the Gate. If Barrett hadn’t insisted on him changing into civilian attire, Evan would’ve stormed to the exit straight away. But there wasn’t anything to complain about, really. O’Neill had sent him through the Gate before anybody else had even fully packed their bags. Really, he should be grateful he didn’t have to ride back home in the Daedalus. As it was, he was grateful to be here, but he still hadn’t come here fast enough. He should’ve been with Alex when she met up with Javier. She shouldn’t have had to go through this alone. And who could tell what had happened in the past few minutes.

He was closing the last button of his shirt with trembling hands, even as he stepped out of the changing room in front of which Barrett was waiting for him and the look on Barrett’s face didn’t bode well. “What?” Evan said, dreading the news. How much time had they lost already? Ten minutes? Fifteen?

“The reinforcements just arrived at the scene,” Barrett said, starting to walk towards the elevator. “No sign of them. Not of Doctor Lorne, or the van we had parked in the street.”

Evan stopped dead in his tracks, his heart plummeting. “Excuse me?” His breath caught in his chest, but he wouldn’t let the thought near him. Not even for a minute. Alex wasn’t gone. She couldn’t be. The NID had not lost her. “Are you telling me my wife has just vanished into thin air?”

“Of course not,” Barrett said, pale, but composed enough that Evan felt like slamming him into the next wall. “Let’s go and take a look.”

“What about the Odyssey?” They should be able to track her. To just beam her out of there and to safety.

Barrett nodded carefully. “They can’t get a lock on her transmitter, Major.”

His palms were damp with sweat as he hurried to the elevator without saying another word and his heart was beating so fast, he could feel his pulse in the tips of his fingers. “Why didn’t you call me sooner?” he asked hoarsely, his hands balled into fists. Fire fights he could deal with. Flying fighter planes and Puddle Jumpers were no problem. But this…  just waiting for Barrett to get in the elevator already and for them to get moving was torture. Why hadn’t they given Alex extra protection? Where was she? Who’d taken her? Should he even be thinking like this? Shouldn’t his mind be numb with shock? But his thoughts were racing, while his body seemed on the verge of collapsing.  Why hadn’t they pulled him out of the op? Somebody, anybody could’ve failed at that mission. Not only had he failed to rescue Pryce and the others, he’d also missed the message from Earth calling him back.

“You were on a mission, Major.”

His jaw was set so firmly, he could barely breathe as heat and cold rushed down his spine.

“We’ll get her back.”

He’d heard that before. Years ago. And he’d said the very same thing only a couple of days ago to Murdoch.

 

The driver hit the breaks so hard, Evan felt the seatbelt cut sharply into his chest. The black van they were looking for was parked on the side of the road halfway to the park.

             He jumped out of the car, ignoring the icy rain hitting his face. He knew Alex couldn’t be in there, of course she couldn’t be, but the very fact that the van was miles away from where it should be, didn’t bode well. He knew Barrett was right behind him as he jerked open the back door of the van   to find three bodies sprawled out in the back of it. There was no sign of a struggle, just the lifeless forms of the NID agents and the monitors on the inside walls, showing nothing but static.

             “What’s in the front?” Barrett shouted at their driver, who ran around the van to check there as Evan climbed into the van to check the first man’s pulse. Nothing and no visible wounds.

             “Zats?” Barrett asked, kneeling next to Evan and checking up on the woman lying on the cool metal floor next to the man.

             Evan shrugged. That would’ve been his first guess as well. It would explain the static and the lack of scorch marks or bullet wounds.

             Javier was involved in this. Evan still couldn’t believe it. Javier had been his friend. He’d covered for him and Sam, they’d had each other’s backs for years. Could Evan’s betrayal really have been bad enough for Javier to resort to this? His former friend was doing well now. He was working for a big company, had plenty of money by the looks of it… yes, he was working for the Trust indirectly, but Evan would never have believed that Javier would stoop to this level and assist in an assassination attempt or a kidnapping… “What’s the last you heard of Pérez?” he asked, forcing himself to start thinking clearly and ignore the images flooding his mind. Of Alex lying somewhere just as lifeless as these men. Of Alex writhing in pain, her screams echoing of dark walls in empty rooms. Of Alex lying on that table in that cell on the mothership. Pale and cold, but still breathing. Her eyes wide and unsteady. He swallowed hard.

             “He left his house, got on a plane and into a car when he arrived in Denver. A rental. We ran the plates a couple of times, but they must’ve been changed on the way here. The police has been alerted, but so far, nothing.”

             Evan cursed under his breath and jumped out of the van again. “Driver’s dead?” he asked as their driver came around the van, his face lined with concern. Barrett was already on the phone, talking to someone who would come and take care of the ditched van and bodies. “What about Simon?” He knew that the man who’d attacked him and Alex had escaped and hadn’t been apprehended yet, or at least no mention of that had been on record last time he’d checked.

             Barrett shook his head. “Hasn’t been seen in months.”

             Evan snorted. He didn’t believe it. He couldn’t.

             “Let’s get back in the car and to the park. Our team thinks they found a lead.”

 

But the only “lead” they’d found was Alex’s engagement ring. She must’ve dropped it, just to leave a trace. The surveillance cameras posted nearby only showed her being escorted to yet another black car, an SUV, by a man with dark hair, whose face didn’t appear on any of the cameras. The only thing Evan could certainly tell was that this wasn’t Javier. The man was far too slender and far too tall to be Javier.

             They were back at Stargate Command, looking at the footage, going through paper trails to try and trace down the car, but the plates on that van were stolen and probably exchanged again for another set of plates first chance the kidnappers had.

             “There were a couple of people in the park,” Barrett said, shuffling the papers in front of him. Alex’s team had been conducting interviews with people who’d been in the proximity and Evan was more than grateful for that. He wouldn’t have been able to keep his cool. He was barely able to sit still and read as it was. He hadn’t slept in almost two days, was almost high on sleep deprivation, while his pulse hadn’t slowed down in hours. His wife was missing. The one person who really knew him, who would be the perfect partner in a situation like this, with her bright mind and her quick thinking, but she was the one who’d gone missing. She was the one he needed to find. And quickly, because, really, there wasn’t a whole lot of guesswork involved as to who had taken her. The interviews conducted by her team had confirmed their suspicions.

             Javier worked for Barton Corp, so did Corbin Simon. Hera Simon, née Simon, had obviously been the result of a genetic experiment, and Barton Corp had been led by Ba’al, and it wasn’t at all unlikely that at least one of Ba’al’s dozens of clones was still here on Earth. And they’d tried taking Alex once before.

             The only question was why and where to. Ba’al obviously had some pretty decent hideouts, or the NID would’ve already found him. That was, if they didn’t let him operate in secret. Evan doubted Barrett was corrupt, but he knew that the NID couldn’t always be trusted. But the information they had on possible hiding places for Ba’al was scarce to say the least.

             As to the why… Ba’al already had all he could possibly have taken from Alex. He had their child’s DNA, he had their DNA. He’d done experiments on those, and the current tissue samples that’d been gathered from Ba’al clones already suggested that the System Lord had already managed to come up with his own version of the ATA gene therapy. And yes, that thought was scary enough, but why bother taking Alex now? The only explanation that came to mind was her research, but most of what she’d worked on before joining the SGC had been publicized and the research she’d done here had to be, at least to some extent, be accessible to the Trust.

             Evan got up from his chair and went to collect Alex’s laptop. Maybe going through her research would help. Barrett was still staring at the files and Evan had to admit, working in silence like this wasn’t exactly bad. He just wished somebody he was more familiar with were here. Even Jackson with his erratic mannerisms would’ve been a comforting presence right now. Because both he and Alex had already worked with Jackson and Jackson knew how Alex worked, probably better than Evan did. But Jackson and his team were on a mission to find a weapon that could be used against the Ori, so there was no way to get his help right now.

             He didn’t have to think long to guess her password. She used the same one every time, for each and every single thing she had to have a password for, but he felt almost guilty signing into her computer right now, without her permission. But there was nothing for it, and really, this was stupid. This was her work computer. This was an emergency and if anyone should look into the files she kept on there, it should be him.

             The first file to pop up, however was not that of her research, but of the e-mail she would’ve sent him next. A compilation of several weeks’ worth of events and thoughts. Something she hadn’t spell-checked or checked period. The last entry was about how their team had gone off-world to investigate a message sent by refugees. Apparently Jonas was back. Evan half expected that familiar twinge of jealousy in the pit of his stomach, the way he always did when that name fell, but he’d stopped feeling it some time ago. The only thing he felt now, as he was skimming the latest message, was fear. He couldn’t remember feeling this scared for her life since their time on Larsa, but then he’d at least had some power over what was going to happen to them.

             He closed the document, before he could be tempted to lose himself in her words and imagine hearing her voice speaking them. That was something he really couldn’t focus on right now.

             There were hundreds of files, documents, pictures, tables and data he couldn’t even begin to comprehend in her “to be sorted” folder right on her desktop and he instantly felt stupid for even imagining he knew what she did. She could always explain it well enough, and he was usually up to date with her projects. He’d seen her type so often, he even knew when she was on a roll and her typing was fast, or when a brand-new idea hit her and she had to delete whole paragraphs, because there were so many typos in her hastily written down text she couldn’t bear looking at it. And then there were those moments when she was writing a conclusion, when that last, that most important thought had clicked into place and she was typing so decidedly it almost sounded like she was determined to break the keyboard, as though she was arguing with the text she’d just written and making a decided point. Each click a stroke of inspiration. He knew those sounds. He read almost every paper she wrote, but he had little to no idea what went into the process of creating those. And he’d never seen those files, those heaps of comments, annotations, these heaps of files containing data and quotes and lists of books. At least now he knew what she sometimes stared at, her chin propped up on her fist, as she looked unblinkingly at her tablet.

             He swallowed hard.

             “Found anything?” Barrett asked, making him flinch.

Evan had almost forgotten the other man was still here. “Sorry.” He cleared his throat, not even knowing what he was apologizing for as he clicked through several more folders to open the most recent research file. Not yet a paper, but a collection of ideas. Some kind of analysis of how the myths about the Ancients had evolved. Interesting perhaps, but probably not of relevance in this situation. “I’m just trying to figure out what she was working on that might peak Ba’al’s interest in her.”

Barrett shrugged. “She did do some research on him, didn’t she? Back when you were looking for your daughter?”

Evan frowned and nodded. “Yes, but not recently as far as I know. That’s why I’m checking. The first thing she published, back when she was still working on her dissertation, was about Mesopotamia and the Ba’al cult.” He knew, because his dad had actually gone to the library to order a copy of every paper Alex had ever written before Evan had even brought Alex home for their first Thanksgiving together. Alex had been so embarrassed and his dad had been so proud to be able to talk to her about it. Really, the history teacher in him came out at the least appropriate of times. “But that’s so old, I doubt it would be of any interest to him. I mean, she didn’t research the Goa’uld Ba’al, but the cult, or the various cults.”

“Just saying, there might be something there, but I think I may have found something else.”

“What?”

Barrett dropped the file he was holding in the centre of the table. “This storehouse belongs to a company which Barton Corp bought about three years ago. Until about six months ago, that place was just a regular warehouse, but their power consumption has dropped considerably.”

“So? Maybe they don’t have anything to store anymore.”

Barrett shrugged. “Maybe. It’s still worth checking out, don’t you think.”

Yes, it was. And it was roughly a six-hour flight to Anchorage, which meant that, with the help of a pill from Doctor Lam, he’d even get some sleep. With nothing else to do on a flight, that couldn’t be the worst thing. “Sure.”

Barrett left the windowless room to make the call, while Evan remained behind. He reached for the narrow ring which had been lying on the table since they’d arrived in this room. It was hers. No questions there. He carefully slipped the bullet chain with he dog tags over his head, opened the clasp and slipped her ring on there as well. He wouldn’t lose it that way, and who cared about regulations at this point, really?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

2006

It’d only taken her about four weeks for her to fall ill after arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy. Two weeks and two missions, and she’d been bed-ridden. Some kind of flu virus specific to that corner of the universe. Not lethal, but unpleasant. Atlantis’ sensors hadn’t reacted to her illness, not causing the entire city to go on lockdown, but succeeding in chaining her to her bed, first in the infirmary, and after Beckett determined that she wasn’t about to die, in the apartment she shared with Evan to ensure that she got some more rest.

            She couldn’t remember ever being that ill and she hadn’t fallen sick since then. But the violent shivers and nausea weren’t something she’d forget easily. Neither would she ever forget how Evan had taken care of her, how he’d spent every spare minute by her side, bringing her tea, making sure she was warm enough, until he’d had to go on a mission and  gone missing. For one whole day, she’d believed him dead, until Beckett had determined that the bodies they’d found weren’t those of Evan and his team. And when Sheppard finally brought Evan back, it’d been Evan’s turn to fall sick. Evan’s turn to lie in bed, shivering and miserable, while it fell on Alex to take care of him.

            Why she remembered those days so vividly now, Alex couldn’t say, except for the fact that her body felt just as weak, just as beat up, as it had then, and that she knew exactly how Evan must be feeling. He’d gone missing before, but now it’d been she who’d just vanished into thin air. Well, not exactly into thin air, there were bound to be witnesses, but there was no way for him, or anybody else to track her movements. Within seconds after Ba’al had pushed her into the dark car, she’d felt a sharp pain in the crook of her arm and she’d lost consciousness. It didn’t take a whole lot of imagination for her to figure out that they’d removed her tracker. When she came to, she felt sick. She heard the humming of engines, felt that she was in a plane, rather than saw it, but the nausea overwhelmed her within seconds and everything went dark again.

She’d only woken up a couple of minutes ago, but she kept her eyes shut, listening to the silence surrounding her and trying desperately to ignore the shivers starting to creep up her spine, or the pounding headache, paired with the overwhelming urge to vomit.

It would take her captors only so long to figure out she was awake again. Evan was bound to be back by now. Everybody from Atlantis was surely back on Earth and there must be dozens of people looking for her. She only needed to hold out long enough for them to figure out where Ba’al had taken her. At least that’s what she hoped. She had to hope, or she’d go insane.

Her thumb traced the metal on her left ring finger. The wedding band was still there, but she’d dropped the engagement ring. How she hoped it’d been found. It’d just struck her in that park and she’d only barely managed to get the ring off, before Ba’al had forced her head down. She wanted Evan to have this ring if something happened to her. She needed him to have something to hold onto in case this all went wrong, because things had gone wrong for them before, hadn’t they? But now she was missing it, the familiar breadth, that little ridge between both rings. And Evan. She hadn’t seen him in weeks and now, to imagine how this must driving him crazy. But he’d be okay. He had to be.

 

Odyssey had left Earth a couple of hours ago to assist SG-3. The team was stranded on a derelict Goa’uld mothership, and the Odyssey was the only chance they had of getting off there. And the Apollo, though ready to defend Earth, was in no way capable of hyperspace travel or didn’t have its beaming technology installed yet. And so they had to resort to good-old plane flying. It wasn’t too bad usually, but when you knew that instantaneous travel was possible, the delay was nerve wrecking.

            Luckily the sleeping pill Doctor Lam had handed to him before the flight knocked him out cold for its entire duration, and though he was still a bit drowsy upon waking up, he knew he could deal with what was to come.

            Barrett, still in his tailor-made suit, was reading through the files again, as Evan woke up to the pilot telling them that they were about to land. “Any new insights?” Evan asked, his voice hoarse, and his skin starting to itch with stubble.

            Shaking his head, Barrett closed the files. “I just have a feeling this is too easy.”

            Evan nodded thoughtfully. They’d alerted the local authorities, the warehouse was being closely watched, but who could tell if they were on the right track here. “Only one way to find out,” he muttered, wiping his burning eyes as terribly bright red sunlight hit his face. The day was ending already. What time zone were they in right now? How long had they been at this? He couldn’t tell, but he didn’t care either.

            Looking over his shoulder at Colonel Andrews, the leader of Alex’s new team, Evan felt like they could actually do this. Andrews was going over yet another file, frowning and turning pages. SG-8 was fully involved in Alex’s recovery, Major Brackley and Lieutenant Esposito monitoring Barton Corp and the movements of company-owned planes from Colorado. Once again, the SGC and the Air Force were throwing all they could into the recovery of a missing member of their operation. Evan felt a twinge of guilt as he remembered that he himself had just abandoned a rescue mission. But he’d done all he could in Pegasus. Murdoch was on the case of the missing geologists, and if Murdoch couldn’t find them with the help of their allies, then all hope was lost.

            But not for Alex. Ba’al had no way of getting away from Earth, or so Evan hoped. He must’ve gotten here somehow after all, but at least the System Lord, or the System Lord’s clone, or whoever he was posing as now, had no access to the Stargate and his movements were limited. There just had to be a way.

 

The ground beneath her was cool, but steady. That much was certain. Opening her eyes ever so slightly, she felt her stomach drop. The dark golden colour of the wall facing her was familiar. So were the symbols etched into it. Years ago she would’ve called them hieroglyphs and seeing them would’ve made her heart jump with excitement. Now all she felt was dread. She recognized the words, could read them easily enough and recognized the story of the conquering of Bach’ra. It’d been one of the first new myths about Ba’al she’d encountered after starting to work for Stargate Command. Only that it wasn’t a myth, just a boisterous and artistically embellished story of a war, which the System Lord Ba’al had won and which could be seen and read in each and every one of his ships.

            “You’re awake.”

            She wasn’t surprised to hear that voice, but it made her stomach lurch even more. She forced herself to sit up, glad that her hands weren’t bound, even though there was no way for her to fight. She was still feeling sick, still feeling like she was about to throw up, but she sat up anyway, looking over to the door leading away from the cargo area and into the cockpit. She was alone in here. Alone with him, or at least that’s what it looked like. There were a couple of crates in here, not Goa’uld style, but clearly made on Earth with its metal-plastic coating. Swallowing hard, she started getting to her feet and Ba’al was next to her within seconds, grabbing her elbow and pulling her up before she could push him away. “Where are we?”

            He let go of her then and the way he looked at her, that trace of concern and smugness at the same time in his eyes, made her wish she’d never woken up.

            “I’m surprised that’s the first question you’re asking, Doctor.” Still no trace of that metallic distortion in his voice. It would’ve made this whole thing more surreal and maybe a bit more bearable.

            Her eyes shifted to his right hand, to the golden device strapped to it. She remembered it all too well. “You know you’re not getting off this planet, right?” Not if Odyssey was still in orbit. Not if it monitored the entire solar system. She just hoped it was.

            “That shouldn’t be any of your concern,” he said quietly, taking her elbow and starting to pull her towards the door. She jerked her arm, trying to free herself, but immediately her vision was taken up by that bright orange and red light as pain seared through her skull, making it impossible to breathe, as every cell in her body screamed with pain.

            She collapsed on the ground and the pain was gone, leaving her to clutch her head, heaving.

            “Don’t resist.” Was all he said, before he grabbed her elbow again and pushed her through the door.

 

Andrews was standing on the other side of the door, several more soldiers behind them. Evan’s heart was pounding in his chest. It was all just a blur. The warehouse was big enough to contain a Tel’Tak, certainly, and one of Barton Corp’s planes had recently landed in a nearby airfield. So far their intel seemed correct, but if years dealing with the Goa’uld had taught him anything, it was that they rarely did what you expected them to do.

            Andrews nodded, his grey eyes focused on the door. Just a side door, not the main entrance, but that was guarded by twenty or so airmen which’d been brought in from the closest base.

            Evan shifted to the side, his P-90 heavy and comforting in his hands, as the three men carrying the battering ram approached to break down the thick metal door. It gave way after the first try already and Evan, Andrews and the others were inside, storming the vast building. And no wonder there hadn’t been any kind of energy consumption. The place was empty apart from a couple of shipping crates stacked around the edges Evan felt as though he’d slammed into a wall. Nothing. Alex wasn’t here.

            With a loud curse, Andrews moved past him his arms stretched out as though trying to touch something that was cloaked. But there wouldn’t be any need to cloak a ship in a location nobody was supposed to be looking for it.

 

Green foliage. It was the first thing she saw as she stepped into the cockpit. The ship must be hidden in a forest, but apart from that there wasn’t a whole lot to see. Trees, leaves and moss-covered ground outside and it was all she wanted to see, because the man standing behind the pilot’s seat had been her friend once.

            “Now… Doctor. Like I said, I need your help.”

            “Fuck you,” she breathed, though she had to admit she was glad he didn’t use the ribbon device on her again. Obviously, he needed her and he needed her brain as much as anything, or he would’ve killed her already.

            Ba’al ignored her. He merely stepped towards Javier, who looked weirdly out of place in his simple grey suit. “This man tells me you’re an archaeologist.”

            “A lot of those on Earth, you know.”

            Javier didn’t meet her eyes, just moved to the side to make room for Ba’al, who picked up a tablet which was lying on the central console. She could have scratched his eyes out, could have shouted all the insults she knew at him, but what use would that be.

            “Yes, well. But I need you.”

            “As though there is anything you couldn’t have found out without me.”

            “Actually,” he began, swiping through the files on his tablet, “My sources haven’t quite managed to gather all the intel I need.”

            Play for time, she told herself. Time was all it would take for Evan and her team to find her. She kept her mouth shut, crossed her arms over her chest, hoping she wasn’t looking the part of the scared civilian who had everything to lose, because that was exactly how she felt. Her eyes darted to Javier, and for the first time she saw the split lip and the light bruise on his cheekbone. Maybe it hadn’t all been a ruse. Maybe… but she couldn’t trust him.

            “What do you need him for?” she asked, jerking her chin in the direction of Javier and ignoring Ba’al as he drew closer, tablet in hand. He was still wearing that pristine suit and still that unfathomable smile. She’d seen it before, right after he’d ripped her daughter from her.

            “Somebody needs to fly this thing while we talk, right?” He waved at Javier and pointed him towards the pilot’s seat. “He’s grown quite accomplished at fixing things. Did you know he studied engineering? This ship’s cloak was damaged when I landed the ship, but he’s been able to fix it.”

            Alex refused to stare at Javier. Yes, she knew. She knew what Javier’s major had been at the Academy. She had read his file after all. Instead, she faced those cool brown eyes and raised her eyebrows at him. He held her gaze for a whole minute as the ship around them came to life. The cloak was working. They were taking off, but who could tell where.

            He handed the tablet to her, but she was still refusing to take it. “I’m surprised you need the help of a lowly human like me.”

            “Alex,” Javier said warningly, but she didn’t care. Ba’al might torture her, he would certainly kill her, but she wouldn’t play the scared little girl like he wanted her to. She’d been there once and it wouldn’t happen again.

            “Well, implanting a symbiote would save time, I agree, but you have to admit, this is more fun.” His bright grin made her want to punch him and she practically ripped the tablet from his hands.

            “Is that what you did with my daughter?” she asked, glad her voice wasn’t shaking, unlike her knees. She skimmed the file he’d opened. It was a paper she’d handed in to Hammond a few years ago. About a dig-site near Bagdad. She’d figured one of Ba’al’s old labs had to be located there… so she’d been right.

            “Let’s not dwell on that,” he said mildly, putting an arm around her shoulders and she had to force herself to stay still and look at the file and the map below it.

            “No,” she said, ignoring his breath on her cheek. “Let’s. I want to know.” She looked up again. His face was so close to hers, their noses were almost touching and she recoiled involuntarily as his hand tightened on her shoulder.

            Ba’al’s lips twisted into another smile. One, which made Alex’s stomach lurch yet again. “Let me make a suggestion,” he said quietly, almost seductively, his voice so velvety deep, she had absolutely no problem imagining every intern, he’d ever had posing as a major businessman, swooning. How had he lived here?

            She swallowed hard and her hands were gripping onto the tablet for dear life to keep them from shaking, as he turned her around and the metal-clad finger closed around her chin.

            “You tell me where my lab is, because unfortunately I shielded it far too well, and I may tell you what happened to your darling girl.” He tapped her chin with his thumb. “Before I kill you.”

Chapter Text

 

 

2006

It’d been years since she’d been here last. Before the war. Before it’d become impossible for Western archaeologists to conduct research here and even now she couldn’t quite suppress the excitement at seeing the ancient ruins of Babylon, even from so far away, even if all she saw was outlines of rebuilt monuments down on the ground. And they were gone so quickly.

            “How much further?” Javier asked, his hands on the control crystals.

            She kept quiet as Ba’al moved in closer behind her. “A bit further north. Doctor?”

            Alex swallowed hard. She hadn’t forgotten his threat, or his so-called deal. He was looking for a place he’d abandoned millennia ago. This was the place where his host had come from. The place where he’d gained power first. When her research at the SGC had begun she’d found it fascinating, how the emerging of the Ba’al cult must have coincided with his rise to power as a lackey of Ra. And now he wanted to get something he’d stored here. In a place she’d tried to convince General Hammond to let her go to. To lead an excavation in the search for information on Ba’al and his research. Here she was now. With her enemy, without anybody knowing where he’d taken her and why.

            “Doctor?”

            She looked down at the tablet again. The entire journey she’d thought about how she could get out of this. Playing for time would only get her so far. They weren’t in the States anymore and though there were still army troops stationed in Iraq, there was little chance they’d get to her aid in time. And Ba’al wouldn’t mind killing her here and now and try to find the lab on his own. The landscape had changed massively these past thousand years or so, but he needed her to find the location faster. He’d find it. That talk about Nora was just that. Talk. Nothing else. He had no need to explain himself to her.

            “Doctor, I’m going to need an answer.”

            A jolt went through the ship, making her stumble against the centre console and the tablet slipped out of her hands as she caught her fall. Looking up, she saw that Ba’al’s hand was hovering over Javier’s forehead, whose face was contorted with pain as he clutched the instruments in front of him. Alex’s eyes flew to Ba’al and she knew instantly that he wasn’t above killing their pilot. He could stun her, lock her up, and fly the ship on his own if need be. Javier was expendable. And no matter how she loathed her former friend now, she couldn’t let that happen. “Stop,” she said quietly, reaching for the tablet again to go over the report she’d written. “I’ll do it.” Swallowing hard, she stood upright as Ba’al came closer again and Javier gasped for air as he was released.

            “That’s what I thought,” Ba’al said quietly. “Now, what are we looking for?”

 

Her dad was fast asleep, her doll sprawled on his belly. Alex stood next to him, watching his snoring lips and the way the hair of his moustache moved with his snores. He’d probably want a drink when he woke up, but where to get one? She turned her back to him and surveyed the stretch of beach where he’d taken her and her brother. Their mother had stayed at home, deciding not to go on holiday with them. After the fight her parents had had the moment her dad had come home, Alex wasn’t surprised. Not that she didn’t want her mother here, she did, but sometimes it was just nice to spend some time with her dad. Well, and her brother. But Adam had taken off with a couple of boys they’d met the previous day and so her dad had taken her to the beach.

            There wasn’t any kind of booth where she might buy her dad a drink. She’d just let him sleep, she decided, and why not take a little swim while he was sleeping?

            The sand was searing hot beneath her feet, making her pick up her pace. The sky was clear blue, the Mediterranean Sea rushed invitingly at her, almost greeting her. Maybe, if she went far enough, she’d find a piece of wreckage. Alex giggled at her own thought. Hope died last. And a pirate ship would certainly be a fun thing to talk about when school started again.

            “Hey! That was my fortress!”

            “Huh?” Alex looked down to see a dark-haired boy stare up at her and then at her feet. At the trench she’d destroyed as she ran towards the ocean. “Oh sorry!”

            The boy sighed and ruffled his hair. “Now I gotta start all over again!”

            “You speak funny.”

            “Funny… You’re funny.”

            The insult was clear, even to her. She put her hands on her hips. “Well, you should put up a sign, so people don’t trample your stuff.”

            “Most people look where they’re going.” His ears were turning slightly pink as he pushed himself up and then stood in front of her. He was just her height as he surveyed her. “Want to help me with this? Since you broke it?”

            Alex huffed. He wasn’t entirely wrong, she realized. She looked over at the ocean again, then she shrugged. “Fine… five minutes. What are you making?”

            “Fortress,” he said. “My parents, my sister and me went to a castle yesterday and I really want to build one like it.”

            “Oh!” Alex exclaimed. “The one in Marseilles?”

            The boy shrugged. ”Maybe. It was on an island.”

            Alex nodded excitedly. “My dad took us there yesterday as well!” She grinned. Now, that was funny! “My brother broke my sunglasses.”

            “What a jerk!” The boy said with a frown, kneeling down and shuffling sand on a heap to start and repair the damage Alex had made.

            “That’s not a very nice word,” she said.

            “No, but I’m seven, so I’m allowed to use a bad word every now and then, my dad says. My sister says even worse things, though.”

            Alex giggled again. “I’m seven, too.” That was a bit of a lie. She wouldn’t be turning seven for another couple of months, but he didn’t need to know that.

            He looked up at her then, his blue eyes flashing in the summer sun. “You’re on holiday as well?” When she nodded, he grinned even wide. “My parents really want to take my sister and me to get some proper culture, but I got them to take us to the beach today.”

            “My dad doesn’t really like castles and stuff,” she said, shrugging and starting to help the boy to fix the fortress and model the building in the centre of the sand circle. “You’re lucky.”

            He huffed and shrugged. “Maybe.”

            “I’m Alex by the way.”

            He nodded and stretched out his hand to her. “Evan.”

 

Adam must have called her phone three times, but if there was something Evan couldn’t deal with right now, it was Alex’s angry brother. Not that Adam knew what had happened, how could he, but Evan would have to tell him if he picked up.

            The phone was vibrating again, shifting furiously on the table in front of him. But there was no way he’d pick up now. Let Adam stew for a bit. Alex never picked up straight away when he called, so he should be used to disappointment. But three times? Now four? Evan reached for the phone and stuffed it into his pocket, just so he wouldn’t have to hear the noise of plastic rattling against wood anymore.

            “Who’s so desperate to reach her?” Andrews asked. He had a couple of files spread out in front of him, while Evan was still clicking through Alex’s research, desperately trying to find a new lead. They weren’t back in Colorado Springs yet, but their flight was supposed to leave in half an hour.

            “Her brother,” Evan muttered, shrugging.

            “Ah.” Andrews said, raising his eyebrows. “I think she mentioned him.”

            Evan nodded. “Probably. She loves him to bits.” Alex would gladly call her brother a jerk, even to his face, but no matter how annoyed she was with him, Adam always had a special place in Alex’s heart.

            “I guess so. Airline pilots are a special kind of pilots, aren’t they?”

            Evan huffed and nodded. “The best thing that happened to the sky since rainbows… or at least that’s Adam’s opinion.” He’d found the folder of research Alex had conducted two years ago. There wasn’t a whole lot in there, but a lot of it appeared more familiar to him than the more recent files. He opened one he was sure he recognized, when the door flew open and Barrett came in.

            “The Apollo picked up a Tel’tak’s energy signature,” he said, reaching for the jacket he’d left in here as he went out to get them all coffee.

            “Where?” Andrews asked.

            “Oregon. They cloaked about three minutes into the flight, but they’re pretty sure it was a cargo ship. They’re heading east.”

            Evan looked down at the laptop with a frown. “I think I have an idea where they’re going.” Just a hunch, but a hunch was all they had right now.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

2006

The ship was still cloaked as they hovered over the spot which Alex had pointed out. The shape and size of what had about three thousand years ago been a military outpost was so similar to the one near Babylon where she’d worked just before Daniel had recruited her for the SGC, that she was amazed how nobody else had yet set up a dig here. Maybe because just the shape of the mount remained. Maybe because no big trade routes had ever passed by this place. Maybe because farmers and other people who had lived here through the millennia had stripped the former fortress of stones und brick to build their homes with it and accordingly there seemed to be little to be left to explore.

            There had to be dozens of reasons and no time or leisure to explore even one of them. Under any other circumstances she would’ve been thrilled by the prospect of exploring this area, but right now all she could do was refuse to tremble from head to foot.

            Ba’al’s hand was on her shoulder as he pushed her towards the transport rings. She was still dressed in her winter coat and winter shoes and she wasn’t exactly looking forward to stepping into the desert below, but that was the least of her concerns at the moment. If she was very, very lucky, the ring platform beneath the mount wasn’t operational anymore. Everything else wasn’t even to be thought of. She wouldn’t get out of this alive. She knew that now. And she still couldn’t let Javier die with her, just to prolong her refusal to help.

Alex didn’t ask why Ba’al wanted her to come along. He would never give her an answer anyway. All she could hope for was for the ring platform to emit some kind of energy signature, which the Odyssey or the Appollo or whichever ship was in orbit right now, would be able to pick up. Whatever Ba’al was looking for here, it certainly was not just a sentimental memento or keepsake. It was far more likely it was some kind of technology, or device, or a bit of research he had conducted or stolen two thousand years ago, which he desperately needed right now. What it was, or what he needed it for, she couldn’t tell, but she had a hunch that it might have something to do with the cylinder she’d found nearby a couple of years ago, the one which had gotten her the position at the SGC. The one with the crystal inside. This place and the dig she’d worked at then just looked far too similar.

            He was holding her in an iron grip, his metal-clad hand pressing down hard on her shoulder. As though she had any chance of escaping him here. But what creeped her out most of all was his thumb gently stroking the back of her neck, as though surveying a spot of particular interest. She shivered and made to pull away, when he dragged her closer so she stumbled against his chest, which felt so normal and warm that she recoiled, but moving away was impossible. Her eyes trailed to the ground, to the silvery metal ring surrounding them, set in the dark floor. “I may let you live,” he said quietly. “You may be a bit older than the women I usually like, but seriously, you’d be a much better fit for my queen anyway. I’m sure once we lose those glasses, you’re going to look the part.”

            Alex hid her gasp behind a scoff. Why hadn’t she brought her gun to the meeting again? Because she trusted Barrett. She trusted the NID. Well, that was over now for sure. One way or the other. “I’m surprised to hear you share power.”

            “I don’t,” he said lightly and she had little trouble guessing what he meant. One of the symbiote clones might do the trick just as well. And it wouldn’t cost him anything, really. But why he even wanted it, she couldn’t say. Maybe just for the fun of it. For the fun of having a female body to show off.

            Javier turned in his seat and as their eyes met, Alex got the sense that he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. His expression didn’t change, he just stared at her and Alex felt Ba’al’s grip tighten even more.

 

Peterson. Another five hours of flying senselessly until they reached an airbase with a functioning ring transporter. The Air Force had taken to installing those in the most secure air bases a few months ago, which would at least shorten their travel time considerably. They were to be used in emergencies only, since none of the other nations was supposed to know about them, and Evan wasn’t entirely comfortable keeping secrets from people he’d worked side by side with on the most secret mission on Earth, but it wasn’t his place to question what the US Air Force used its resources for. And right now he couldn’t bring himself to care. Ba’al already had a head start on them and if he was going to Iraq, in a Tel’Tak especially, he’d already be there. When Evan, Andrews and Barrett got off the plane in Colorado Springs, Ba’al could already have left Earth. Evan knew that, but he still couldn’t stop hoping. A troupe of Marines was already standing by, approaching the location he’d told them to go. He just hoped that, if, Ba’al was still there, the sudden approach of soldiers wouldn’t spook him into turning tail. If he was still there. No. He had to still be there. He had to.

            They’d take the ring platform to the Apollo, then back down again to the air base near Bagdad and join the Marines. That was, if they found an entrance to the lab and if that was where Ba’al had taken her. For millennia that place had gone unnoticed, so it wasn’t likely they’d actually find anything there which archaeologists and scavengers couldn’t have already found, he knew that too, but that certainly wouldn’t stop them looking.

            Evan was first to enter the main building and headed for the elevator with Andrews. Barrett would remain here and stay in contact with them in case anything else turned up. The ring platform was located several floors down and they all needed to change into tactical gear before their departure. There was no way he’d be slowed down now. Balinsky was already waiting for them near the platform, so was Anna, who’d volunteered to help them in their search for Alex. She’d signed a non-disclosure agreement about the rings a few hours ago as far as Evan knew. And she’d keep the secret. If Evan knew anything about her, it was that she could be trusted and didn’t much care about military operations, or mind where they set up a foothold. Who Evan hadn’t expected to see there, was Jonas.

            The other man had changed. He’d aged considerably these past two years, or at least he appeared to have aged. Maybe it was just the lack of happy enthusiasm in his eyes, or something else entirely. Something Evan couldn’t grasp, but recognized somehow. “Jonas?”  he asked after greeting the two archaeologists.

            Balinsky nodded. “Jonas offered to assist as well,” he explained without any real need.

            “I think you’re not going to have to go to Bagdad,” Jonas said, making Evan’s heart sink. Not to Bagdad. What was that supposed to mean?

            “Yes, we know,” Anna added, and Evan could just about see that she was doing all she could not to roll her eyes at Jonas. “There’s a ring platform there, there just has to be, just like there was one in England. You know, where Doctor Jackson and his team discovered the cave in England which brought us into this whole mess with the Ori?”

            “It rings a bell, yes,” Evan said, ordering himself to remain calm and listen to what they were saying. Andrews entered the vast room behind them, along with the rest of Alex’s team. “You’re saying Alex was right? There’s a lab somewhere in the desert there? And that has a ring platform?”

            “What I’m saying is,” said Jonas, eying Anna with an almost angry expression. What had happened to him? “that you’re going to need a code to lock on to that ring platform there. He has to have used a ring platform back in the day. If he wanted to keep it secret, he needed a secret entrance.”

            “Or Ra or anybody else would have already found it… probably.”

            “Yes, well, and Ba’al has always been good at covering his tracks.” Jonas shrugged and looked down at the loaded P-90 in his hands. He’d been wounded the last time he’d volunteered to help them, Evan hadn’t forgotten about that, and, to be honest, he wasn’t sure if Jonas was up for a mission like this. But neither was he ready to jump into action. He was terrified, and he could practically feel the cool-headedness he’d learned to keep at all times, slipping away from him. It was worse than it had been that first time he thought Alex had gone missing in a Goa’uld attack, because the stakes were so much higher. He’d been in love with her then, but  what they’d shared since then wasn’t anything he could ever have put into words, and just thinking that he might lose her for real this time, made him so tense he was sure he really shouldn’t go on this mission. But he would. Of course he would.

            “So, do we have an idea of how to get in there?” Esposito asked.

            Balinsky stepped forward before either Anna or Jonas could respond, withdrawing a piece of paper from his vest pocket. As he unrolled it, Evan recognized the picture he himself had drawn. He’d never asked where the artefact had come from, which Alex had put in front of him that summer. “This artefact was found in Ba’al’s lab. The one Doctor Lorne discovered  three years ago. There wasn’t anything hidden inside that cylinder here but it was concealed inside one of the walls and it took as a while to figure our what it did, because the symbols here don’t make a lot of sense.”

            Evan raised his eyebrows. Why hadn’t Balinsky used the photos which the archaeological teams must have made of this thing? But then he saw it. Balinsky unrolled the print and traced some lines which Evan had drawn. They formed a kind of pattern. Something Evan would never have picked up.

            “Six symbols,” Balinsky said. “We’d never have picked it up from the photos. They looked too uniform there with only a few variations, but they appear better in the drawing,” he threw an appreciative look at Evan. “And then we discovered that the artefact can be, uh-“

            “It works like a Rubik’s cube in a way,” Anna jumped in, “You turn the rings on the top, the symbols there correspond to the symbols on the Gate on the planet we found the cylinder on.” She had a look in her eyes then, which was a lot like the one Alex got when she was excited by something, though there were significant differences. Like the frown and the way her lips formed a crooked smile. She wasn’t Alex, but Evan could see immediately how Anna and Alex had connected straight away. “We found that pretty early on, but-“

            “Get to the point, Doctor.” Andrews held up a hand, interrupting her, and not for the first time did Evan think that having a civilian like Alex on an SG-team worked massively in the favour of that team. They learned to think more like explorers and less like military. God, he missed Alex.

            Anna frowned at him and ripped the picture of the drawing from Balinsky’s hand, just to start pointing it at Andrews. “You want to hear how we get in there, you have to listen to the whole explanation. Be patient, man!”

            Evan would’ve grinned, had Andrews not been a Colonel and he desperate to get going himself. “Anna,” he muttered quietly and when Anna’s gaze met his, he saw her expression change from mildly angry to concern.

            “Right.” Clearing her throat, she straightened her shoulders. “I am just trying to explain-“

            “I get that. Get on with it.” Andrews stoic expression was very similar to the one Evan had seen before in military men (why was it always men) who had to deal with scientists who weren’t experts in building bombs. Slightly annoyed, carefully patient and desperate to start on a mission.

            “What we’re saying is,” Jonas added, “if you put in the address of a certain world, a code of symbols is revealed on the cylinder. And when you input the address of Tau’ri, you get another six-symbol code, which does not correspond to a Gate address, but to the control panel on a Goa’uld ring transport. Luckily, on the planet with Ba’al’s lab, the right code was already programmed into the panel you used to activate the rings.”

            “Good,” Andrews said, his expression unchanged, but clearly fed up with explanations. “Let’s go, then. I don’t want to waste any more time. Esposito, Brackley, when we get to the Apollo, you’re going to take the flanks, Lorne, you’re on our six.” What he meant, of course, was his six, but Evan bit back a testy comment, as he moved around Anna, Jonas and Balinsky to stand next to them as Alex’s team took position inside the ring with them. He briefly touched Anna’s shoulder and nodded at her. There was no reason for her to come along on this mission, really, except to help her friend. And the same held true for Jonas and even Balinsky. They were good people. And he was grateful they were here.

 

The room was a perfect octagon. The floor mosaic which incorporated the ring platform showed a flower on beige and white, its blue petals pointing at the corners of the room. They were the first thing she saw, when they materialized in the lab. Would they also be the last thing she’d ever see? Ba'al let go of her and she raised her gaze to the walls. Black. Not gold. And not hieroglyphic Goa'uld writing, but cuneiform Ancient Babylonian.

“Surprised?”

Alex shrugged off his hand. She just needed a moment, just one to get a chance to try and overwhelm him. Just one moment. But as she turned around to face him, she knew he would never give her that chance. His eyes flashed golden for a brief moment and she knew why he hadn’t left her with Javier. He didn’t trust him to keep her or to not turn his back on him. He just needed Javier on the ship for the moment. To fly them to safety at a moment’s notice, but then Javier would be expendable. She took a step back, before Ba’al could grab her again, and before she knew it, she was flung across the room, her back hitting the wall behind her, knocking the wind out of her. The pain seared through her body, before she collapsed to the ground. And it wasn’t just her back that was hurting now.

He approached her, hand device still raised, as he knelt down in front of her and the brightness hit her eyes again, enveloping her in pain, making her skin feel like it was on fire, her head like it was about to burst.

Her throat was sore the moment he released her, and only now did she realize she’d been screaming. Gasping for breath, she flinched back as he drew nearer until their noses were almost touching. “I told you not to fight me, didn’t I?”

She couldn’t retreat anymore. She couldn’t vanish into the solid wall and he was so close to her that escaping to the side was no option either.

“One more move, and I’ll reconsider letting you off the hook, I swear.”

Her eyes darted to the ribbon device, to the blood red crystal embedded in the centre of his hand and her heartbeat picked up. “So kill me.”

His lip twitched in amusement and she froze as the current flowing from the device paralyzed her, stopping her breathing, her thoughts and all she saw was that dull red light and she couldn’t move anymore.

“There’s no need for that,” Ba’al said softly, reaching up to take off her glasses and putting them on the floor beside her. “Yes, you’ll do just fine. Astarte, my consort, has been in need of a proper host for two thousand years, and you’ve proven useful before, haven’t you?”

She couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. Even when he released her, she just sat there, staring at him, her heart hammering in her chest.

“Now.” He grabbed her chin then and rubbed his thumb over her lips. His skin was rough and far too warm, but she couldn’t even turn her head. “Just wait for me to take you away from here, will you?”

He got up again and moved to one side of the room. There were no tables in this lab, no obvious devices. Just walls and writings and the ring platform. Was it even a lab? “It’s not entirely without its merits,” Ba’al said, casually tapping three symbols on eye-level, causing the wall to slip back and reveal a glass-shelf, illuminated by a bright white light from above. A couple of crystals and a wooden crate the size of a computer tower.

“You’ll still experience life, you’ll be protected, live a very, very long life… and who knows what interesting people you’ll meet on the way. You should be thrilled.”

Shrugging, Ba’al took the crate of the shelf and placed it in the centre of the ring platform, stroking it lovingly. He wasn’t looking at her anymore, just at the box. He got up again and moved to another shelf. He tapped three more symbols and another shelf was revealed, one containing a canopic jar. Alex recognized the symbols and the sight of it scared her more than his words had. He wasn’t joking. He wasn’t playing with her. He was serious. Dead serious.

Placing the jar next to the box, Ba’al took a step back and activated the crystal on the ribbon device. The ring platform activated and within seconds the first items were onboard. Why hadn’t he brought more of his lackeys to do the work for him? Was this place so secret that nobody was allowed to know? Probably. That jar held Astarte, a Goa’uld Queen, who had gone missing some time before Ba’al assumed any real power, and if Alex remembered correctly, she had been revered as one of Ba’al’s consorts, not the most prominent one, but Goa’uld Queens who acted as consorts rarely assumed any real power of their own. Only those who chose to work on their own ever ascended to the rank of System Lord. Why he’d put her here, or why he needed her now, Alex didn’t know and she was terrified to find out.

But a soft tingling in her feet and hands suggested that she’d be able to move. If only Ba’al remained occupied for just a few moments longer. If only he ignored her for a couple of more minutes, she might be able to get the jump on him.

He piled more items into the rings. More boxes, some of which he opened before putting them down again, some of which he just placed in the centre of the rings. And then a clear, loud wailing sound rang in her ears, making her heart miss a beat. Ba’al whirled around to face her, his eyes slits, as he crossed the room to grab her and drag her up. “Time to go.” But before she could stand fully upright, before he could take one step towards the ring platform, it activated and he drew her close to his chest again, his arm wrapped tightly around her throat and she felt the cold metal of a blade on her throat. She still couldn’t speak. She could barely stand. Her head was throbbing, and his heavy breathing on her sweaty neck made her feel sick. The cold steel bit into her skin. She barely felt it, hadn’t it been for the wet hotness trickling down her throat.

Her hands still wouldn’t obey, neither would her legs. She was held upright just by him as her eyes stared ahead.

The circle-shaped hole in the ceiling opened up and the five rings once again descended into the room, a sudden brightness flashing across her vision as Ba’al’s arm pulled her even closer, choking her, the blade so tight against her skin she could feel it more and more with every heartbeat.

And then there were six people, dressed in black, Evan right in front of her, his gun aimed at Ba’al, his blue eyes almost black in the dimly lit room.

He didn’t speak. She didn’t see anyone but him, though she recognized the faces behind him. But all she could focus on were his eyes. His lips, set in a thin line. Her hands twitched and she had a feeling she’d be able to move. But not just yet. Not yet…

“Let her go!” Evan said finally, when the rest of the team had taken up position. The first time she’d heard his voice in months. The first time she’d seen him, and she still couldn’t quite believe it. And there was so much hanging in the balance. If this didn’t work, this would be the last time she’d hear it. Ba’al had his back against the wall, but she was his shield. She was his only way out of this. She didn’t dare swallow as the blade bit deeper into her throat.

“Let me go, then you can have her.”

“Not gonna happen. We’ve been there before.” His eyes darted to Alex for just a second. One look, which confirmed everything she needed from him. She widened her eyes for just a second, knowing he’d pick up on it, then she slammed her fist into Ba’al’s crotch, ignoring the sensation of touching him there and turning to the side, away from the blade just as he doubled over with a gasp and Evan fired the one and only shot he’d need.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

2006

He ignored Andrews’ look as best he could. Luckily Andrews wasn’t his commanding officer and luckily he had other things to keep his mind occupied. Or rather, he had one thing to keep his mind occupied. Alex.

            She was barely able to stand and was shaking so violently he’d been terrified of touching her at first. But then her arms were wrapped so tightly around him, her breath hitting his neck with such force, that he didn’t let go of her anymore. The side of her face had been spluttered with blood, as she fell to the side and he’d barely had time to put the security back on his gun, before he caught her.

            And now she was in the infirmary. The doctor on call, some guy he’d never even met, had practically ripped her from his arms as soon as they reached the Apollo again, to check her over.

Evan was waiting outside in the corridor. He’d barely brought himself to drop off his gear in the armoury, before taking his post outside the door again. Anna, Jonas, Balinsky, Esposito and Brackley had waited with him for a while, none of them speaking a word, and he knew his expression must be more than just intimidating. He’d never have thought it possible that he’d just shoot. But one look from Alex had told him that she wanted him to do it. That she was ready to distract Ba’al in any way she could. It’d been that easy. One simple movement of his finger, just a brief moment of metal resisting the muscles in his index, and Ba’al’s head was nothing but a mess of brains, cracked skull and blood on the floor. But the satisfaction he’d thought he’d feel, should a moment like this ever come to pass, hadn’t set in yet.

            What if something was seriously wrong with Alex? Why else would the doctor keep her in there for so long? What if he’d hurt her so badly she’d never speak again? What if- and that was probably the worst thing he could think of, Ba’al had implanted one of the symbiote clones in her? The Tok’ra weren’t as reliable as they’d once been and until they met them, Alex would undergo torture until the symbiote could be safely removed.

            And Andrews was still staring at him. Evan could feel his gaze lingering on him, but he didn’t look up. There was a scratch on the yellow line on the linoleum floor in front of him. Almost like the thin foil which had been glued there had ripped and then unceremoniously been reattached. Like a piece of a puzzle that didn’t quite fit.

            “Major.”

            Evan frowned and knew he had to look up now. Stand up straight and face his superior officer. Swallowing hard, he ordered his muscles to shift his body into the required position. He was just so damn tired. Tired, exhausted and scared. Not a good combination to face a fight in. “Sir?” His hands met behind his back and Andrews’s dark eyes surveyed him with an almost angry expression.

            “What you did there was foolish.”

            “Yes, Sir.”

            “You could have killed her.”

            “No, Sir.”

            “Excuse me?”

            Evan closed his eyes for a moment. How was he supposed to tell the man, that he trusted Alex to trust him. There was just no question about it. “Sir,” he began, holding back an exasperated sigh, “I knew what she was going to do.”

            “There was no way for you to know. We got there, you shot him. You had barely time to aim properly.”

            Evan shook his head. Yes, he could have missed. But he wouldn’t have. Not with Alex’s life on the line.

            “Moreover, you killed a potentially valuable prisoner.”

            “Maybe,” Evan said, “but there are dozens more of him out there and-“

            “I know this was about your wife. And your daughter. Yes, I remember that. Nobody at the SGC has forgotten, believe me, and I want you to know that we all know why you did it, but this is no laughing matter.” Andrews pushed himself off the wall and approached him. “You just better hope that Brackley’s and Esposito’s report are in your favour. If they’re not, you’d better start building a damn good defence.”

            He’d thought of that. Not when he fired the shot, but a few minutes after that. After the doctor had taken Alex into the infirmary and he’d stood in this very same spot, staring at the closed door with Brackley and Esposito behind him and Jonas, Anna and Balinsky some way to the side. Yes, he could have left it to Andrews to negotiate. Yes, he could have waited, but the trickle of blood running down Alex’s throat, the determination in her gaze and the slight twitch in her eyelid just before she freed herself from Ba’al’s grip, had told him to act. He hadn’t thought this through at the time, no, but who could possibly have asked that of him? When right in front of him was the monster who had first abducted and effectively killed their child. “Yes, Sir,” was all he could say without dropping his gaze.

            Andrews nodded. “Good. Well, at least he didn’t get away.” He sighed and just as he was about to say something else, the door behind them slid open with a tiny hissing sound and the doctor was there again, a tablet in his hand.

            “Come on in,” he said, “we did all the tests we could, but she seems to be alright.”

            “I’m here, you know, Doctor Church?” Alex was sitting on one of the beds, not in a hospital gown, which, he had to admit, was a massive relief. She wasn’t high on pain killers either, but as she looked at him, her eyebrows almost knit together and her jaw set firmly, he knew that she felt guilty and angry and just wanted to get out of here.

            “Yes, I know, Doctor.” Church didn’t roll his eyes, which had to count in his favour, and turned back to his patient, “I’m just letting them know.”

            Alex nodded and jumped off the bed. She was still pale, but not shaking anymore. “Right. So, I don’t have a snake in my head and I’m not hurt. That means I can go home, right?”

            “Yes, it does. Just be sure to check in with Doctor Lam tomorrow.”

            Alex didn’t look at him, or at Evan, but at Andrews. She was embarrassed. The soft flush of her cheeks betrayed it more than anything else. “Thank you, Colonel. I didn’t think I’d get out of that one alive.”

            Andrews was quiet for a moment and exchanged a brief look with Evan, before he nodded. “Of course. The others are already back in the lab to secure as many artefacts as possible. Maybe, once you feel up to it, you’d like to join them.”

            Her shoulders relaxed slightly and Church took off with a shrug. “Yes, I would,” she said, “What about the cargo ship though? How did you even know where I was?”

            “No cargo ship,” Evan said, approaching her and sitting down on the bed next to her. “It must have taken off the moment we locked on to the rings. We had a group of Marines standing by outside the compound, just in case. That must have tipped him off. Alex, who was flying that thing?”

            She reached up to her forehead and rubbed it, as though trying to get rid of a massive headache. She wasn’t wearing her glasses. Ba’al must have stepped on them in the struggle. “Javier,” she said, clearing her throat. “Javier was flying the cargo ship. And Ba’al sent something up there just before you showed up. A box, I have no idea what was inside, and a canopic jar with a Goa’uld Queen inside.” She swallowed visibly and looked up at Andrews again. Could she even see him clearly? Probably not. Her vision had become even worse these past few months.

            “So, we have one of Ba’al’s supporters on the run, no idea where he’s going, and he has valuable cargo with him,” Andrews threw Evan an almost venomous look, “and no chance of finding out where he went.”

            “You still didn’t tell me how you found me.”

            “I did a little nosing about in your research,” Evan admitted, wanting nothing more than to reach out and touch her face. To kiss her. To draw her close and never let her go, but that moment had passed. He couldn’t touch her, not with Andrews right next to him. “And then we all did a bit of guesswork.”

            “The archaeological team, mostly,” Andrews said, frowning in appreciation. He did that a lot, Evan realized. “You should really go home and get some rest now. The both of you. I don’t think either of you could have slept more than a few hours these past few days.”

            Alex nodded. “No,” she sighed and when Andrews left the infirmary, and they were alone for the first time in months, Evan wrapped his arms around her and breathed in her scent. It hadn’t changed. Beneath that layer of sweat and fear still lingering on her skin, there was still that familiar, warm tone on her skin. She pressed her forehead against his neck and held on to him so tightly, it was hard to breathe for a moment.

            “Hey,” he muttered into her hair, making her laugh, her hitched breathing on the verge of turning into sobs. But not quite.

            “Hey.” Her fingers traced his spine and she kissed his cheek. “Can we go home?”

            Home… what a thought. He nodded and pressed his lips against her forehead. He hadn’t been there in months and after their move they’d barely spent time there, but their house had always been there, in the back of his mind. And now they’d get to stay there, possibly for good, because returning to Atlantis was impossible now. That too would take a while to sink in. He just hoped somebody had taken the time to pack their things.

 

It was morning. He’d completely lost track of time. What date it was, he couldn’t tell, but at least he now knew that it was the beginning of a new day. He paid the driver of the taxi and followed Alex outside. She was wearing a jacket he’d taken from the Apollo and maybe, if he remembered, he’d make sure it’d end up back there. Her winter coat must have gone missing at some point, and he hadn’t had the patience to go looking for it.

            Her hand had been in his the entire ride from Peterson to their house and she weaved her fingers through his now. A familiar touch in the cold winter air. She dragged him to the door and somehow, through this entire ordeal, she’d kept her house keys in her jeans pockets. Entering the house he saw immediately that she hadn’t spent a whole lot of time here. It looked almost like it had the day they’d both left for the Pegasus galaxy. And here they were again. In the hall, both dazed and tired and nothing seemed entirely real.

            “Food?” she asked and he just shook his head. He wasn’t hungry, though he knew he probably should eat something. And so should she, but all he wanted to do was curl up in bed, hold her close and sleep for a week. Instead of saying so, though he just squeezed her hand and started dragging her up the stairs. She didn’t resist though and when they entered the bedroom and he saw one of his old shirts lying on top of his pillow, he felt a pang of regret. Regret for the time they’d lost being part. Again they’d been ripped apart and this time it might very well have been for good.

            “Are you okay?” he asked, letting go of her and shrugging out of his jacket. He should have asked before, but somehow that question hadn’t seemed right. Not when she was trembling in his arms, not when she was sitting on that hospital bed. Not with Andrews there. She’d gone through hell.

            She shook her head, threw her jacket on the chair by the door and nodded. “I don’t know,” she muttered and sighed, pressing her hands to her eyes. “I need to take a shower.”

            “Alex, what did he do to you?”

            A sharp intake of breath and the tears in her eyes were worse than her silence on the ride home. “Nothing,” she gulped, blinking to get rid of the tears. “Nothing like that, I mean. He-“ She sniffled and wiped her eyes, before she wrapped her arms around his neck, drawing him in. Had Ba’al touched her? Because, if he had, Evan would regret shooting the bastard for the rest of his life.

            She wasn’t shaking anymore, but when he stroked her back, he felt every muscle. She was still tense, so wound up. “It’s over,” was all he could say, knowing full well that it wasn’t. That particular Ba’al clone might be dead, but who could tell how many were still out there. And how was she supposed to feel safe right now, only a few hours after this. Ba’al had tortured her. Her eyes were bloodshot and wide. He’d seen this before, and he hated seeing her this weak. He took her face into his hands and kissed her. Glad to have her back. Glad to be able to do this, but terrified of going too far. She stiffened for a moment, but didn’t pull back. Her lips were dry, almost coarse, but they responded after just a few seconds. Her fingers brushed through his hair like they always did and she was just there. She was with him and she was alive and what more could he ask for, really.

            Taking a deep breath, she let go of him. Her eyes were dry again, but her pupils were so wide he could only barely see the blue of her irises. “I’m gonna take that shower now.”

 

When he returned from the bathroom, his hair still wet and his muscles sore from the days he’d spent chasing first the geologists and then Alex, she was already lying in bed, her damp hair sprawled out on the light blue pillow, her arms wrapped tightly around his pillow. She wasn’t sleeping, but her eyes were closed, shut so tight, as though she were in pain.

            Evan didn’t bother with clothes. He just slipped under the covers, quickly, so as not to let the cool draft disturb her. She blinked and looked up at him, still disbelieving that he was actually here. That she’d gotten out of this. “Do you want to talk about it?”

            “No,” she said, putting the pillow back and opening her arms.  “Not right now.”

            He nodded and shifted closer to her to take her into his arms again. Her gaze moved from his face to his chest, to the dog tags hanging there, and the ring he’d attached to his necklace.

            “Poetic,” she muttered, sliding one arm beneath his torso and kissing his chest.

            “Let’s get some sleep.” His heart was beginning to pick up speed. It took little more than her lips on his skin and the awareness of her naked body next to his, but they were both tired, neither of them had slept.

            Her hand, which had started shifting down to his stomach paused and she looked at him again. Had he hurt her? “Alex, I-“

            She sat up, holding the blanket over her chest and he knew he’d said something wrong, though he had no idea what it was. She wasn’t angry. Not at him. He’d seen her angry before, and this wasn’t it. “No, it’s okay, I’m just-“

            “I’m sorry, I only thought this might not be a good idea right now.”

            The rain hitting the window was the only sound in the room and he couldn’t stop staring at her bare back. At the soft, round shoulders and the damp hair streaming down her back. What had he said to upset her?

            Sitting up, he put his hands on her shoulders. They were cool, but still felt the same. The same shape, the same beauty mark where the neck met the right shoulder. “Alex, come here. Please.” He didn’t need to ask twice. And he also knew that this couldn’t wait. His wife had missed him and he’d missed her and being tired was no excuse. And he wanted her. He’d wanted to hold her in his arms, to kiss her, to feel her body on his, the sweet, warm weight of it, the softness of her breasts for so long now, that he could barely breathe when she kissed him again, pushing him back and straddling him.

            The hardest part was finding their rhythm again. Their teeth clashed, their hands collided awkwardly. Though their bodies fit together like always, though her lips were as hot and demanding as always, he had to restrain himself not to throw her on her back before she was ready. She was moving on top of him, one hand on his chest to steady herself, the other guiding him inside her. He was gasping already, even before he felt her around him, before she started gently moving her hips.

            He forced himself not to close his eyes, but to stare into hers as he did his best to match her movements and it took him a few moments to get there. “Evan,” she gasped, so close already that he barely had time to sit up and touch her face, to kiss her again, before she cramped around him, making him come with her, his lips on hers, gasping, tasting her breath and feeling the soft tremors echoing through her body to match the slight shivers running down his spine.

            She looked at him then, stroking his face, his cheeks, his chin and wiping the tears from his eyes. He hadn’t even noticed he’d started crying, but as she dried his tears, he felt the burning in his eyes and the tightness in his throat. Pulling him close against her chest, she held him. She, who’d been kidnapped and dragged across the world, who’d been tortured… she was holding him and he had no idea where that sudden stab of pain was coming from. It bored into his chest, burned in his lungs and all of a sudden his hands were shaking too. All he could do was to hold on to her, to feel her warmth and presence like the loss he’d feared.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

2006

It was Evan’s groan that woke her. Not the melodic ringing of her phone. She could barely open her eyes, but the incessant tone echoed through her thumping head. Evan was holding her tight, but she managed to wriggle free, missing his warm embrace straight away.

            Reaching for her phone, she didn’t even look at the caller ID before picking up. She was sure somebody from the NID, or the Air Force was listening in, so what did she cared who it was. Whether she picked up or not, the people listening in secret already knew who was calling her. Evan had put the phone on her bedside table before he went into the bathroom and plugged it into the charger.

            Evan groaned again, shuffled closer and put his head into her lap, his arms around her waist.

            “Hello?”

            “Alex! Where have you been?!”

            “Huh?” She blinked, rubbing her eyes and looked around. She was in their bedroom. She’d woken up a couple of times, her heart always thumping and every single time she had to make sure that Evan was still there. And he was. His body snugly nestled against hers, that she could feel every single movement he made. “Who’s this?”

            “Are you drunk?”

            She cleared her throat. That accusing tone, that voice… yep… it had to be him. “Adam.. hi. No, sorry, just a bit tired.” She turned her head to look out of the window. The sky had cleared somewhat and she could see patches of blue peeking through the grey clouds. But the window itself was still spluttered with water droplets. She was home. Ba’al was dead. She was home. Evan was with her. Everything was okay. Sort of.

            “Where were you? I’ve been trying to reach you for two whole days.”

            “Two days?” She looked down at Evan who still had his eyes closed, but his lips were on her stomach, moving slightly. She brushed a hand through his gloriously soft hair and shook her head. “Sorry, I was busy. Didn’t have my phone with me.” If that wasn’t the understatement of the century, she didn’t know what was.

            “So, the usual… you just normally tell me when you’ll be out of range, so I was worried, you know?”

            Clearing her throat, he nodded. “Yes. Yes, I know. Sorry… so, what’s up?”

            Evan’s lips were forming a smile now and he looked up at her. He still looked far too tired to be awake, and she didn’t feel any better.

            “Do you know if your husband will be back for Christmas?”

Her heart leapt and she grinned despite herself. They’d lost Atlantis, but right now she wasn’t too sorry. She’d gotten Evan back early. Yes, she’d miss working there, but at least they were back together now. “He is back,” she said. “Ahead of schedule. And, yes, we’re still planning to come over for Christmas.”

Evan frowned and sat up. “Is that your mom?”

“No, it’s Adam.”

Groaning, Evan threw back the blanket and got up.

“He sends his love,” she said, making Evan stick out his tongue a her, before he went into the bathroom.

“I bet he does,” Adam sighed, “Anyway, why I’m calling is, I’d like to have you two there. I- I’m getting married.”

At that, Alex nearly dropped her phone. She just gaped at the window. Only yesterday, she’d thought she’d die. Only a couple of hours ago, she’d been sure to either die at the hands of the only remaining System Lord, or become the host for his consort, and here was her brother, telling here that he was about to get married. Something that was supposed to be normal, which it wasn’t, because Adam was a total prick, had just clashed with something that was her every-day life and which couldn’t in the least bit be considered an every-day job. She couldn’t wrap her head around both things simultaneously. And so she forced herself to focus on the one thing she could get a grasp on right now. Ba’al wasn’t here. Her brother was on the phone though. His voice was still in her ear. She should focus on that. “Uh-“ she stammered, fully aware that this wasn’t the response Adam must be expecting. “to who?”

“To whom,” he corrected her and he cleared his throat. “You don’t know her.”

“Her?” She could’ve bitten her tongue. If anything, the news of her brother marrying a woman was more surprising than that of his marrying at all. She’d always assumed he’d done that at least a couple of times on his travels, especially since he’d sworn to stay away from Las Vegas permanently, but she’d always always thought he was attracted to men! Heck, she’d seen him with a man once. He’d pretended not to see her in that pub in Manchester, but he had been with a man. A damn attractive one, too. Tall, dark hair, probably another pilot by the smug look on his face, but a man! Not a woman!

“Yes… well.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, her name’s Maud and we’re getting married on Christmas Eve, so please be sure to be here a day early, alright?” And there it was again. That brusqueness. He’d done it, completely walked over her and ordered her about, but there wasn’t anything she could say to retaliate.

“Okay… uhm, congratulations! I- I’m happy for you!” I guess. But before she could say goodbye, he’d hung up.

Evan was brushing his teeth when she entered the bathroom and he looked at her through the glass. “What?” he asked, his mouth full toothpaste foam, which he spit out, before speaking again. When their eyes met in the mirror, she saw that he was worried. “Is he coming?”

“No,” she said, pushing past him to open the cabinet next to the mirror and get the bottle of Aspirin. “He’s getting married.”

“Who’s the lucky guy?”

“I suppose a middle-aged woman called Maud.”

Evan scoffed and put his hands under the tab to splash his face with icy water. “Weren’t Ellen and Roger supposed to be here with the kids?”

“Yes, I suppose they left? I told them I had some things to take care of and wouldn’t be home to see them off.”

Evan looked a bit disappointed, but also relieved that his sister and her husband hadn’t gotten wind of what had happened. And they’d see them eventually. They’d fly over to San Francisco after the visit to Alex’s family. And she knew how much he missed his nephews.

 

“I should probably talk to Jonas,” Alex said as they left the elevator. Doctor Lam had just cleared her for duty, albeit reluctantly. “And Anna… and Cameron… and the team.”

            Evan nodded absentmindedly. He’d just received his new assignment and right now he had to start assembling a team. “Sounds like a plan,” he said, entering her office with her, going through a list of possible applicants as he walked. Fisherman was out. He was probably on his way back to Canada by now. Once Murdoch got back, he’d get a promotion and his own team. After what they were doing with the Athosians, that was almost certain. Woeste would probably join Evan’s team, and Williamson, one of the newer recruits. But shouldn’t he also get one of the scientists to join up? “Do you know what’s going to happen with Anna? I mean, the Atlantis expedition isn’t on anymore, is she unemployed now?”

            Grabbing a notebook from a drawer, Alex shrugged. “I don’t think so? Well… the military members of other countries have to get to their home countries of course. But Anna should be able to stay here? That’ll make Oliver especially happy, I suppose?” She looked up at him with a wide grin, which froze the moment she saw the expression on his face. “What?”

            “He’s still in Pegasus.” He said, clearing his throat and rubbing his forehead as he sat down on the stool next to hers.

            “He’s what?”

            He hadn’t told her yet, and he instantly regretted waiting this long. But there’d been nothing they could have done to change it, and at the same time he knew that she felt left out. That she remembered the scene they’d had a few weeks ago. “Don’t rip my head off, please… he volunteered to stay. Doctors Pryce, Rothman and Kozina went missing a couple of days ago, along with Sergeant Gray. We believe the Wraith Worshippers took them and sold them on as slaves, but we can’t be sure. I was on a mission with Murdoch and a couple of Marines to find them when you were taken. Sheppard sent me on ahead.”

            She was still frowning, but she didn’t get angry. That was something, he thought.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. He’ll be back with the Daedalus once it’s taken all our stuff here, so they have six weeks at least to find the team.”

“Amanda,” Alex sighed, sitting down in her own chair. “Fuck…”

Evan didn’t even know that Alex and Pryce had been on first-name terms, but of course she was. Most of the scientists called each other by their first names. “They’re doing all they can.”

“I know… it’s just… I didn’t expect that.” She scowled at her hands. “And to think I wanted to meet Ancients so badly… but they’re screwing everything up, aren’t they?”

He nodded and dug in his bag for her laptop, which he placed on the countertop in front of her. “It’s their home,” he said quietly, “but I agree, yes, that city is the size of Manhattan and it’s pretty damn short-sighted of them not to let us stay and help them rebuild. But on their heads be it.”

“On their heads be it,” Alex repeated, opening her laptop and plugging it in.

“I looked through some files,” Evan said quickly. “Just so you know.”

“You said so. I remember,” Alex said, reaching out to him to touch his arm briefly, before checking her schedule for today. “The artefacts are being transferred here later today,” she said before starting to skim through her notes for another research project.

And here they were again. Back in her office, both engulfed in their work, him ignoring his own desk, her only too willing to let him stay in here. How easy it was to let normality take over. Two months apart. A kidnapping, a transfer, and things still went back to normal within a matter of hours. Because that was just what the job was. There were still things to talk about, issues to work through, but more pressing matters were always at hand. There was always so much work to be done. It was a small miracle they were still both more or less sane. The only thing missing were the chocolate chip cookies in the jar on her desk which she always kept there for him.

 

“Where are your people?”

            Jonas didn’t look up as Alex sat down next to him. He just kept scribbling in his notebook, just like he had for hours. The artefact was still in front of him and from sneaking a peek at it, she saw that he was describing it in every detail he could, even starting to translate the writing on the flat surface of the tablet.

            Anna and Balinsky were busy cataloguing the items stored in crates on the other side of the room. They only had a few days before the whole thing would be shipped to Area 51, so they had to stay on top of things.

            “Settling in,” Jonas murmured, his pen flying over the page. “Your government granted us refugee status.”

            “Jonas, I’m so sorry.”

            He nodded, still not looking at her. “Yes, me too.”

            “Do you want to talk about it?” She wasn’t sure she’d want to if the tables were turned, but she wanted to at least offer. He’d done so much for her and Evan, and listening was the least she could do.

            “No.” He dropped his pen on the desk in front of him. “At least not right now. I- I just can’t.”

            “Okay? I get that.” Clearing her throat, Alex reached for her own notebook and for the artefact lying next to the one Jonas was studying. A small box, which wasn’t sealed by any kind of lock, which probably meant that it was safe to open. At least she hoped it was. All the items had been scanned for energy signatures or radiation before being taken into this lab. The box didn’t look too conspicuous, it was just made of wood and there were no markings or pictures on it. “So,” she said, opening the lid and examining the five crystals stacked neatly inside it. Probably nothing of importance to Ba’al, or he would have put the box with the first items he’d sent to the cargo ship. “Are you going to work for the SGC again?”

            Jonas shrugged. “Maybe, if they’ll have me back.” He didn’t sound too optimistic, but who could blame him really. His life was a mess to put it mildly. “There’s nothing on Langara left to fight for.”

            “Don’t say that,” Alex said, putting the box back down and looking at Jonas. He still wasn’t looking at her, but at his hand, which was trembling slightly and balled into a fist. She’d never, never seen him this angry.

            “The Gate is buried,” he said, “Landry told me just this morning. They couldn’t dial the Gate and the Daedalus is going to check in on the planet before coming back here. But-“ He fell silent again and picked up the pen. “I just don’t want to talk about that right now.” His lips formed a thin line as he stared on the notebook in front of him. “I only want to do something to make them pay.”

            Swallowing hard, she leaned back and nodded. “Fine,” she said. “I get that, too.” There were so many who needed to pay. So many things still to get over. And she did get it. She did. If anything, she was the queen of not wanting to talk about certain things, though she had become better at that. Communication was still rough, though. Anna still didn’t know the full story, and she considered Anna to be her best friend, if you didn’t count Evan, and in that respect she probably shouldn’t. Evan was as close to her as anybody could possibly be, and she hadn’t been open with him for months after Nora passed away.

            But Jonas was different. Jonas was the most open, most refreshingly geeky person she’d ever met. To see him like this was crushing, but she wouldn’t push him either. This wasn’t any of her business. Not if he didn’t want it to be. And so she got to work again, while Balinsky and Anna took pictures, discussing certain hieroglyphs and never the issue at hand. Never talking about what had happened in that lab. Or during the past few years. At least not about the hard stuff, because there were some things you could only talk about openly in the early hours of the morning, or in the dark, when there was nothing left to discuss but the really important things.

            And they just weren’t there yet.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 25

2006

“Getting the Palace on such short notice was impossible, of course. But you take what you can get, don’t you?” Adam had sat down after the first dance with his wife and had already started boasting to Evan. Blenheim Palace… really, why would anyone want to get married in a place like that?! It was far too big and far too pompous…. But then again, Adam was rather pompous.

            Unwilling to tell Adam off on his wedding day, Alex took a long draft of her wine. It was too sweet for her liking, but at least it did the job.

            “Uhu,” Evan said, looking desperately over his shoulder at Alex, who was leaning against the bar right behind them, still under the guise of fetching them all drinks.

            “You should have done something like this,” Adam said, not accusingly, but smug enough to make Evan spin around in his chair again.

            “What? Get married in a f- in a castle?” Evan rarely cursed in public, but just now he’d been so close that Alex took another long gulp, took the glass she’d ordered for him as well and carried them both over to the table.

            “You make enough, don’t you?”

            “Honey, care to ask me to dance?” Alex interrupted, before Evan could retort. Right now really wasn’t the time.

            “Excuse me,” Evan said quickly, throwing his napkin on the table and getting up. “Doctor Lorne, will you do me the honour?”

            “Of course, Major.” Without further ado, she took his hand and pulled him towards the small dance floor, where ten couples and a group of teenage cousins, none of whom Alex could name without wrecking her brains, were dancing. The room itself was gorgeous, and it had been decorated lavishly, though the venue which Adam and his bride Maud had chosen for the occasion was beautiful in itself. And she should be happier to be here. Happier to have Evan wrap his arm around her shoulders as he steered her to the other side of the dance floor.

            “He’s so drunk,” he muttered, his eyes darting over to the table.

            “Yes, and so are you. And, well, he’s happy.”

            “How can you tell?” The song changed to a soft ballad, which must have been popular over the last two years, because the couples around them drew closer, arms wrapped tightly around each other, grinning broadly, even her uncle Markus and his long-time boyfriend Nick, but Alex didn’t recognize the song. Being off-world all the time, or in fact, being in another galaxy for over a year, really had its drawbacks. At least when it came to pop culture and social interactions with people who weren’t on the Air Force payroll.

            Complaining loudly, the group of girls to their right dispersed and sat down at their table, as Evan drew her closer until the tip of his nose was touching hers. He smelled of wine and the wonderful food they’d just had and his smile suggested that when this party was over, this evening certainly wouldn’t be.

            “He’s boasting,” she said. “That’s how he’s trying to make you feel bad. Not by accusing you of being a lousy pilot or husband.”

            Evan chuckled, wrinkles forming in the corners of his eyes as he drew her closer to kiss her. They hadn’t danced in forever. Not since a harvest celebration on Larsa and the dance had been completely different then. There had been a lot more handholding with nearly every member of the group involved, including a lot of looking what everyone else was doing. They’d been happy then, despite everything. And just like it had then, the giggling of teenage girls pulled them out of their bubble.

            “Two gross, old people kissing can’t be their idea of a good time.”

            “Shush, you’re not old.”

            “But gross?” He raised his eyebrows at her and drew her closer, his hands starting to trail down her back.

            “Not in that suit, no,” she laughed, grabbing his dark blue tie and pulling him closer again. “Not at all gross.”

            “Gee, thanks. You’re not gross, either, you know.”

            Alex nodded. “Yes, I do.”

            “Do you think he’s right?” He reached for her hand and started swaying her on the spot, the tips of their shoes almost touching as they shifted awkwardly on the edge of the dance floor. The lights had been dimmed and in the half-light his eyes seemed to be even brighter than usual. Or maybe that’s just what the wine made her believe.

            “Usually no. But about what?”

            “Should we have done it like this?” He made a point of looking around the room, at the twenty or so massive and round tables, at the white tablecloths and flower bouquets, at the DJ and the remnants of the dessert buffet. There must be a hundred guests, and Alex didn’t know half of them. Maud, the bride, whom Alex had met only the day before, had been married twice already, she was a few years older than Adam, and her family was huge.  But they’d also invited colleagues and friends and the sheer prospect of having to host a party for that many people made Alex’s head spin. Yes, it was Christmas Eve, and not all of Maud’s and Adam’s friends had shown up because of it, but if anything, this party was as good an excuse as any to celebrate Christmas in an extra wide circle of family.

            “Wouldn’t have been us, really,” she said.

            Evan grunted noncommittally, his mouth twitching, as he twirled her, moving them even closer to the door. “Still, wouldn’t it have been appropriate?”

            “Since when do you care about that?”

            “I don’t. I’m just wondering if you hadn’t preferred a celebration like this, after all? I have to admit, I kind of miss that we don’t have a ridiculous wedding picture like any other normal couple. Even people who get married in Vegas have those.”

            “Yes, they do,” she smiled with a shrug. “Do you regret that we didn’t have a party?”

            “No,” he said decidedly and he twirled her again, unceremoniously pushing her out of the door and into the lobby of the hotel, where Adam and Maud had decided to host their party. “No, I really don’t. It just wasn’t the time, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Still.”      He let go of her hand then and dropped into one of the dark red sofas standing along the wall. The receptionist threw him one glance but returned to her work straight away. “Ouch.”

            “What?” Alex sat down next to him and watched, flabbergasted, as he leaned back and started undoing the laces of his shoes.

            “These shoes pinch,” he grimaced, baring his teeth as he started pulling them off and heaving a sigh of relief the moment his feet were free of the black leather.

            “I told you to wear the old ones,” Alex admonished as Evan threw the shoes on the carpeted floor.

            “Last time I had them was back on A-“ he looked up and Alex felt her face grow hot when she saw her mother standing not a metre away from them in the doorway, looking down at them with a raised eyebrow. “Hey, Rachel,” Evan greeted her, placing his feet squarely on the yellow and red carpet.

            “Don’t mind me, I was quite used to my husband’s cover-up stories back in the day,” Rachel said with a shrug. “And those socks have a hole in them.” And with that she walked to the ladies’ room.

            “I had no idea- you said your dad was just a pilot.”

            Alex shrugged, her heart beating a bit too quickly, as she leaned back and patted her lap, signalling Evan to put his feet there. “I don’t see what her problem is. The hole is so small,” she muttered, tapping the fleshy spot on the tip of his big toe.

            “Alex?”

            “Well, you’re just a pilot,” she argued. “A brilliant one, but a pilot nonetheless. And I’m just an archaeologist working for the Air Force. All’s normal. If we ever do have children, we have to figure out a massive cover-up story.”

            Evan’s lips twitched. “Point taken.”

            His feet were warm as she started rubbing the right one between her two hands. “Seriously, though, did you hide that sock somewhere for five years? I’ve never seen a hole in one of your socks.”

            “Is this the Spanish inquisition? I just had the one pair of black socks left, when I packed, okay?”

            Alex couldn’t stifle the soft giggle, as she took the other foot between her hands. “Okay, Major. Just saying, you always pay special attention to your socks.”

            “I was a bit distracted while packing, if you recall.”

            “I do,” she grinned mischievously , gripping his right foot tight and starting to massage it properly, making him wince. She loved how sensitive his feet were. On Atlantis he’d worn his big, bulky boots all day long, as had she, and she loved taking them off in the evening. He didn’t always let her, because he was ticklish and all too sensitive of pain there, but she also knew that it did more for him than just that.

            “So, we’re going to throw those shoes out tomorrow morning?”

            “Hell, yeah!” he laughed, leaning back a bit more and closing his eyes as she started rubbing his left foot again instead of tormenting it with her knuckles.

            “About what you said just now,” she began, her eyes trained on his face. At the long, dark lashes and the relaxed, contented smile on his lips, “You weren’t thinking of proposing again tomorrow morning, just to piss of my brother, were you?”

            He waved her off. “Nah, I’m crappy at proposing. I tried to do it for months. Really, the way we did it was better.” Opening his eyes again, she saw a look on concern there. “Right? I mean- ouch!”

            She’d pressed too hard. “Sorry,” she murmured. “No, you’re right. We were in a bad place, but if we hadn’t done it then, we’d probably still be looking for a date.” She shrugged. “And seriously, being married is much more fun than the wedding itself. At least that’s what I think.”

            His foot twitched, when she hit a particularly sore spot and his pupils dilated for just a moment. “See, that’s why I married you. You’re far too practical to take my nonsense seriously.”

            With a huffing sound, she switched feet. This would have been impossible on Atlantis. To just sneak off from a public gathering and start rubbing his feet. In a place with a military contingent, of which he was second-in-command of all things, he couldn’t be seen like this. Not that a fancy hotel like this one was a good place for an intimate moment like this, but at least they could now blame it on the alcohol and the late hour. “I thought you married me for my beauty and my charm.”

            “That, too,” he said. “And because you were there. Couldn’t’ve married you had you still been halfway across the world from me.”

            She nodded. “So very true.”

            “I’m glad we agree on that.” How much had he had to drink? She hadn’t counted, but the way he slurred the ends of each sentence, suggested that he must have had more than was good for him. He’d always been easy to get intoxicated, and really, so was she,  but they were both completely out of practice.

            “We agree on more than just that.”

            “Yes, we do. So…” he cleared his throat and shook his head as through trying to clear it. “This wedding doesn’t make us regret we didn’t have a fancy party?”

            “In a nutshell, yes,” she laughed, he fingers tracing the bottom of his toes. It wasn’t that late, but it might be late enough for the both of them to sneak off to their room. His smile told her that he’d be down for that.

            “Alright, you two,” her mother was just returning from the bathroom and Evan sat up straight. She could tell that he only just refrained from putting a cushion on his lap like a teenager caught in a very obvious position. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you.” Rachel sat down on the coffeetable in front of them and once more Evan wanted to shift into a sitting position, but Alex held his feet tight and he sank back again.

            “To us?” Alex asked.

            “Yes, you’re my daughter, in case you forgot.”

            “No?” If that didn’t make her feel like a child, then what would? “We have all day tomorrow, don’t we?”

            “Yes, we do, but I have you here now, so I’d like to do it now.” She was as brusque as Adam could be. She probably didn’t even realize that.

Evan threw Alex a glance. “Okay, Rachel, what is it?”

            Her mother folded her hands on her lap and looked first at Alex, then at Evan.

            “You two are out of reach far too often for my liking,” Rachel stated, making Alex wince slightly. Well, she should have seen that one coming. She rarely came to England anymore, she knew that, and she saw her brother more often than her mother, but it’d been like that for years now.

            “We can’t exactly change that, though,” Evan said. He’d had a similar conversation with his own mother a few weeks ago, Alex knew.

            Rachel nodded grimly. “I know. I just wanted to remind you again. In case you forget.” She bit her lip and surveyed Alex. “I thought maybe you want to come back here at some point? There have got to be good jobs for you out there.”

            That, Alex had to admit, was unexpected. “I’m okay, mom,” she said. “I love what I do.” And she wasn’t even a British citizen anymore, but breaking her those news now, probably wasn’t a good idea.

            “What-“

            “Don’t,” Evan said quickly. “Just-“ he sighed and looked at Alex as though for help, who just knew that his father would start asking even more questions once they got to his family’s place.

            “Mum, we’re okay.”

            “Are you safe?”

            Another question that came unexpected, when it shouldn’t have.  “Yes,” she said. “As safe as we can be.”

            “I’m just saying… last summer was frightening to say the least.” And it must have been. Her family had been as much under surveillance as his. “How it must have been for you, especially after Nora-“

            Alex sighed, cutting her off. Evan had told her mother and his own family that they’d been kidnapped when really they had been trapped on another planet. That Nora had been stolen. It wasn’t a complete flat-out lie, but a lie nonetheless. And they had no idea about what had happened a couple of weeks ago.

            “Rachel,” Evan began, sitting up now and this time, Alex didn’t hold him back. He leaned over and took her mother’s hand in his. “Believe me, I’m taking care of your daughter. Everyone on our team is looking out for each other. And if something happens, we’ll move heaven and hell to get each other out of trouble.” He was speaking quietly now, so quietly that only Rachel and Alex could hear him and the way he looked at her mother, his gaze so intent and sober, made Alex’s insides churn and ache for him to take her into his arms. He really had that intense stare down. “I’m not saying that nothing is ever going to wrong again, but we’re taking care of each other, and I swear, the best people on this planet are intent on keeping your daughter safe.”

            Her mother didn’t appear to be entirely convinced, but she patted first his hands, then his cheek. “Just take care of yourself as well, Evan,” she said with a sad smile before getting up again.

“Hey!” A voice sounded, making Alex flinch. Turning her head, she spotted Maud in the doorway, her long white dress almost blocking the entire frame, God, she was glad she never had to wear one of those. “Why aren’t you dancing anymore! They’re going to play the Chicken Dance, and I don’t want to be the only one out on the dance floor!”

“Coming!” Rachel said, waving at her to get a move on. “I want you two at my house

tomorrow at noon, is that clear?”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Evan said.     

            “And now get out of here, before she sees you and you have to dance.” She straightened her hair and shoulders and headed for the door.

            “Well, that was intense,” Alex muttered as Evan got up.

            “No kidding,” he agreed and they walked towards the staircase, while Rachel was still blocking the doorway. Evan’s shoes lay forgotten on the floor by the sofa.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

2007

Her eyes were burning from exhaustion and her entire body was aching as she lay on the floor, her right cheek sticking to the dark metallic smelling surface. Spasms still ran through her, making her head feel like it was going to burst. And still she was grateful. Grateful that he'd only used that- She tried looking up- Red? Yellow? That light.

That’s what he'd done.

So bright.

Even now.

So bright it hurt.

But still just that. Writhing on the floor, screaming until her throat was raw, that was all the humiliation he put her through. For now.

            Gasping, she tried to turn a way. To hide. Ba’al was dead. And yet he wasn’t. He was right here. Right there in front of her. His wet, hot breath was hitting her face and that soft whimpering was- no, it wasn’t his.

            The first thing she noticed when she opened her eyes was the black, wet nose in front of her. Her heart was hammering so wildly, she barely felt anything but her pulse in the tips of her fingers.  

            The dog, Cyril, was still breathing heavily. Cyril…  Molly’s and David’s dog. She was at Evan’s parents’ place. Not in Ba’al’s ship.

            Reaching up, she scratched Cyril behind the ear. Evan’s parents had gotten him a few weeks ago, about the same time Evan returned from Pegasus. When Alex had allowed herself to be captured by Ba’al. Cyril’s paws scraped over the floor as he tried jumping into the bed and Alex sat up to make room for him. There was no way she’d get any sleep now anyway.

            On her left side, Evan was still fast asleep and she left him there. No use waking him. There wasn’t anything he could do to wipe the memory of that dream away.  As she got up as quietly as she could, Cyril took her place. He wasn’t huge, but  somehow he managed to take up an awful lot of room in the bed. But then again, this was still the narrow bed in which Evan had slept until he’d left for the Academy. Sighing contentedly, Evan turned on his side and wrapped his arm around the dog.

            Cyril must still be exhausted. He hadn’t dealt well with the fireworks and had hidden in their room and Alex hadn’t had the heart to throw him out when she and Evan finally went up to bed.

            Her feet patted softly on the wooden floor as she made her way across the room and into the corridor. The house was always a bit too warm for her liking, but tonight she really didn’t mind. She’d just go downstairs into the living room, read a bit until she was tired enough to fall asleep again. The aftershock of that dream still lingered in her bones, and really she shouldn’t have been surprised for those memories to come haunt her. She’d been dreading it for weeks now.

            The light in the living room was still on, but as she slowly made her way down the stairs, she couldn’t see anyone. David had probably just forgotten to turn off the reading lamp. One quick look at the clock over by the mantlepiece told her that it was already five o’clock, so it was highly unlikely she’d get any real sleep before they had to take the next flight back to Colorado Springs and their little holiday would be over. She had to admit, she kind of looked forward to getting back to work. Distraction was always better than sitting still and waiting for the nightmares to set in. It’d taken her months to sleep soundly again after that ordeal on Larsa, and she doubted sitting still and waiting for Nora to turn up again had helped.

            She slumped down on the sofa and reached for the book on the small table next to it. Surprise wasn’t something she felt at reading the title. She’d read it herself years ago. Daniel’s book. The one he’d written before joining the Stargate Program. David had written to her, telling her, that he’d read it, but to find it still sitting here on the coffee table was more than just a little disconcerting.

            Flipping it open, she paused for a moment. The About the Author page had a picture of Daniel and she could practically feel his excitement at the prospect of his picture appearing in a book. She’d felt pretty much the same when her first book had come out. It’d been just a small volume, but the publisher had wanted her picture in it. And back when this book had been published, Daniel must have felt just as excited. She remembered the thrill of holding the first ever copy of her work in her hands, the smell of glue and fresh paper tickling her nose, as she opened the first page and saw her own words speak to her. Like friends she’d met once before, but looking completely strange in their new font. For Daniel though, the publishing of his book hadn’t done a whole lot of good. First, his upcoming articles had been cancelled, then the book hadn’t been reprinted, despite the fact that it was ridiculed in most media of the time. Really, she felt even more sorry for him now than she had then. Careers ended, but the way he’d been laughed at in that lecture hall in New York, had been truly devastating, even to her, who hadn’t believed a word of what he’d written.

            And where was he now? According to SG-1’s latest report, he’d been captured by the Ori. Her stomach plummeted at the thought alone. She knew Daniel could take care of himself, but the Ori were the most formidable enemy the Tau’ri had ever encountered, and Daniel had been missing for weeks now. He’d vanished without a trace and unlike with the Goa’uld, they didn’t have spies among the ranks of their new enemies. There was no intelligence to be gathered on Daniel, because there were not networks of spies to help retrieve him.

            She tapped the picture. “We’ll get you back somehow,” she whispered in the dark into the silence. Daniel was her friend; had been her friend for years, and if she could help get him back, she would, even if she had no idea where to start.

            “Should I be worried?”

            Alex flinched and looked up. Evan’s dad was standing in the narrow doorway to the dining room and adjacent kitchen, holding a glass of milk and as he was standing there  in the semi-darkness Alex couldn’t help but wonder if Evan would look like him when they were older. The crinkles around his eyes were already very similar, as was the nose and the mouth. “About what?”

            “You falling for another scientist, instead of my son?” David was smiling, though.

            “Daniel’s a friend,” she said quietly with a shake of her head, “and he’s in trouble.”

            David nodded thoughtfully, then held up his hand, signalling Alex to wait. Within two minutes he was back, with another glass of milk for her. He set it down in front of her. “Does he work at Cheyenne Mountain as well?”

            Shrugging, Alex picked up her glass and took a sip. The milk was ice cold and a bit too rich, for her taste, but she was glad for something to do.

            “You know,” he said, “At first I was a bit surprised to hear that you, an archaeologist, would work for the Air Force, but you two went missing abroad, so I thought, okay, maybe you’re just there to make sure they don’t destroy any important historic places.”

            Alex still didn’t comment but opened the book and started flicking through the pages. Lying to a person she liked had never been her strong suit, and she’d been relieved when neither her mother or her brother pushed her for more information after the incident this summer and she had no idea how to make David stop talking.

            “There have been quite a few funny incidents these past ten years,” David continued.

            “You know,” Alex said her pulse starting to pick up again as she pretended to study the table of contents, “I’ve never really heard you talk that much.”

            “I don’t always have a lot to say.”

            “Huh,” she said distractedly.

            “What I’m saying is, these theories might sound ridiculous at first, but when you look at some websites-“

            “I had no idea you were into conspiracy theories,” Alex said, forcing a grin and looking up at David, who didn’t return her smile.

            “There have been cover-ups, haven’t there?” David’s face was so serious no, she felt a lump form in her throat. He looked so much like Evan then with the intense gaze and the way his eyes seemed to bore into hers.

            She shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was the only weak answer she could give him, before turning her attention back to the book. Really, the Air Force should have given her more training in lying.

            “His research is solid, and the theories about landing platforms is just a side note really.” There was the history teacher again. David had studied history back in the day, and it was obvious he still missed it. “But he hasn’t published anything in years, but you know him. And you haven’t published anything either.”

            Alex coughed. It wasn’t like she hadn’t done any research or hadn’t written any papers. They just weren’t accessible to the public. “You know, David,” she said, “I don’t think you should repeat any of this anywhere.”

            “They’re going to make fun of me?” David laughed softly, something he didn’t do very often.

            “No.” Alex closed the book and looked him straight in the eye. Lying wasn’t going to work. She knew that much now, and she wasn’t good at it either.

            The corner of David’s mouth twitched, the way Evan’s did, when he found something funny and disconcerting at the same time. “They’re going to kill me?”

            “No!” Alex said more vehemently, though she wasn’t entirely sure. She’d never really grown to trust the military or the NID and who could tell what the Trust would be up to next.

            “Just… take care of yourselves, alright?” It was pretty much the same wording which her mother had used. Why was everyone so worried about them all of a sudden? Could it be the Christmas spirit still lingering in the air?

            But still, she nodded, unable to say anything else.

 

Daedalus returned the next day, and with it not only the last members of the Atlantis expedition and their equipment, but also the news of Langara.

            Balinsky was sitting opposite her in the cafeteria, a mug of hot herbal tea between his hands. He’d caught a massive cold over the holidays, but refused to stay home to get better. The fact alone that he had stayed here and worked, while she and Evan had been first at her brother’s wedding and then in San Francisco to celebrate New Year’s with his parents, made her feel guilty. But apparently nothing of consequence had happened. And how could it, with most teams staying on Earth to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones?

            At the table next to them, Colonel Reynolds was telling the story of his oldest daughter coming home from college, a new boyfriend in tow. Balinsky caught her eye and raised his eyebrows. Reynolds rarely spoke of his family, but apparently having his daughter bring home someone had been a truly devastating experience. “Shall we go to the lab?” Balinsky sniffled formally.

Alex shook her head. “I have to get ready.”

            “Going off-world?” Balinsky asked, taking a sip of tea. “Some warm planet with a nice ocean and refreshing fruit containing loads of vitamin C?”

            “You should’ve stayed in bed, Cameron,” Alex said, making Colonel Cameron Mitchell a few seats behind Balinsky spin around in his chair. “Not you, Cam. Balinsky here.” Balinsky pulled a face. He really didn’t like that there was another Cameron here, which resulted in people calling him Balinsky again.

            “Bed doesn’t sound too bad, to be honest,” Mitchell said hoarsely, raising his mug to Balinsky in a toast.

            “I don’t get why sick people insist on coming to work, spreading their disease,” Vala, who was sitting next to Cameron, muttered, making them both throw her angry looks.

            “To answer your question,” Alex answered almost testily, emptying her own mug, “My team and Evan’s team are going back to Larsa. According to some intel SG-7 gathered, Ba’al’s Jaffa have left, so we’re going to check that out.” She said it casually, when the mere thought made her insides churn. Of course, she and Evan knew the terrain better than anyone else, but going back to that planet, didn’t sound like a fun trip at all. But at least she’d be going on a mission with Evan. That hadn’t happened in a long time.

            Across the room, she spotted Andrews and Brackley get up and return their trays. She really needed to get going as well-

            “Have you heard about Langara?” Balinsky asked, before Alex could get up herself.

She nodded grimly. “Yes.” She’d been in the lab that morning with Jonas when Colonel Caldwell himself had entered the lab to talk to him. There’d been no life signs on the planet and all the major cities had been levelled from orbit. It happened sometimes with the Ori. A world converted, but after just one more uprising, the civilization was destroyed. At first, she’d been relieved Jonas had asked her to stay, but when Caldwell had finished, she almost wished he’d sent her out. The expression which Jonas’ face assumed reminded her too much of a time she’d rather forget.

“Try to talk to him, while I’m gone?” she asked, but Balinsky just shook his head.

“I bet he’ll want to talk to you at some point.”

Somehow, Alex doubted that, but Balinsky was probably right. Sometimes you had to wait for other people to approach you.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

2007

“God, I’ll never get used to this!” Esposito complained the moment he stepped through the Gate. Shaking his head, he reached for his sunglasses and slammed them on his face.

            “What exactly?” Woeste asked, adjusting his cap.

            “One minute everything’s nice and comfortable, then you step through the Gate and the climate just changes. Like stepping from a freezer into a sauna.”

            Evan stepped down the dais to look down into the valley where the town had been three and a half years ago. He and Alex had agreed to give their relationship another try there. Before Ba’al’s Jaffa and mothership had shown up and levelled the town. It’d hung there, right in the centre of the valley ever since, its contingent of Jaffa blocking the way to the Gate and keeping the entire population in lockdown. And yet, things hadn’t been all bad. Most of the time, or at least that’s what he pictured things to have been now, when they’d managed to forget how afraid they were, they’d even been happy.

            Andrews was standing next to him and looked back over his shoulder at Esposito and Brackley. “You two stay here and guard the Gate. Check in every twenty minutes.”

            “Yes, Sir,” said Brackley. Evan had been at the Academy with her, and hadn’t she been on maternity leave, she would’ve been sent to the Pegasus galaxy, Evan was almost sure of that. He hadn’t been a bad cadet at all, but she’d always soared past him. She’d joined the SGC a couple of weeks before Alex. She smiled at him briefly, making Evan recall the night of their graduation and he quickly averted his gaze to look at Alex.

            She’d moved ahead, standing by the remnants of one of the pillars. As she turned around to look at him, he realized that this had been the one where they’d been separated from their team. Evan almost expected his leg to sting in memory of his broken bone as he approached her. One look was enough to tell him that she was remembering it as well. It’d been her who had dragged him away from here, who had saved his life. If Alex hadn’t joined the Stargate Program when she had, if she hadn’t been on that mission, he’d be dead right now. His chest was so tight, he realized that the rest of this trip was going to be harder than he cared to admit.

            “Ready to go?” he asked and she nodded, looking over his shoulder at the others. Andrews would be coming along, of course, but so would Evan’s team. He’d finally decided on Woeste to be on his team, along with the newest addition of the SGC, Second Lieutenant Amelia Ferres. She’d only just graduated from the Academy and General O’Neill had personally chosen her for the SGC and Evan, trusting O’Neill’s judgement of character, had requested her for his team. This was only her second mission, but so far she was doing fine. She still wasn’t entirely comfortable, but Evan was sure that would pass soon enough. And then there was Anna. He’d consciously chosen a civilian. Unlike Alex, she didn’t have the seemingly natural knack of how things with a mainly military team worked, but she was competent in what she did and she’d been okay at the shooting range on Atlantis.

            Andrews joined them while Woeste, Anna and Ferres stayed a little behind, as they made their way down the paved path. Alex by his side was holding tightly onto her gun and he followed her gaze to the field to their right. They’d emerged from there, run straight for the Gate, trying to catch up the their team then. Dust and energy blasts soaring past them, making it hard to breathe.

After the Gate was buried, they’d hidden in the woods somewhere beyond that field. Turning around and walking sideways, he tried making out the exact same spot where they’d lain in wait, where Alex had watched the Jaffa search the area surrounding the Stargate, and where she’d set his leg. But it’d been over three years and he’d been preoccupied to say the least when she’d dragged him into the forest. There was no way he’d spot the place again. And then he stepped into nothing. Alex’s arm immediately went around his waist to catch the brunt of his fall.

            “Look where you’re going, Major,” she said, though her scolding wasn’t heartfelt. Her lips were forming that smile again, and if it hadn’t been there, he would’ve been embarrassed about almost tripping in front of his superior officer and two new members of his team. But Anna at least had seen him crash to the ground a couple of times, albeit in a daunting match of volleyball.

            Evan looked down and it took him about a second to see the step he’d just missed. There were steps here. Narrow steps on the way down to the valley. He’d forgotten about those. “Sorry,” he grinned and felt the pressure of Alex’s hand more than the actual touch as he straightened up again and she dropped her arm.

            “What do you think?” Andrews asked, ignoring the two of them pointedly. “Should we examine those ruins, or go straight to the mine?”

            With a frown, Alex put her hands on her hips and looked down into the valley. Nothing had moved there in all the time they’d been there. “I don’t think there’s a lot to check out there, Colonel,” she said. “At least there wasn’t when we were still here. But maybe you could go check it out, while we go looking for the mine? Ba’al had workers there, who knows. Maybe they’re still there.”

            “We have no idea when Ba’al left this place,” Andrews pointed out, “or whether he’ll be back.”

            “I doubt it,” Evan said, blinking up into the clear blue sky. They’d come here during the height of the summer heat and he felt sweat running down his spine already. What a fun trip.

            Woeste wiped his brow. “Sir?”

            “Ba’al is retreating from a lot of planets. With the Ori winning over more and more planets, he has to keep his key territories closely protected.” Ba’al was still an enemy to be reckoned with, but he, too, had to count his losses.

            “So, what are we going to do?” Andrews sounded a tad annoyed.

            “Why don’t we check out the ruins, Sir?” Ferres suggested. “Major Lorne and Doctor Lorne know the area around the mine better than anybody else, and we can start figuring out if there’s anything worth salvaging down there.” She pointed at the blackened, half-collapsed buildings below. From where they were standing, Evan almost thought he could make out the well where he and Alex had sat, waiting for Major Pierce and Colonel Edwards to return from their meeting with the mayor.

            Andrews eyed Evan and Alex, then shrugged and nodded. “Sounds good. Check-ins still apply.”

            With a nod, Evan turned right with Woeste and Alex. After two years of leading his own team, after a year in Atlantis, where he only had one superior officer, he still fell into old routines very easily. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. He’d been in the Air Force for eighteen years now. Half of his life he’d spent following orders and working alongside military personnel. In the beginning, he’d feared that Alex wouldn’t be okay with the habits he’d picked up and kept from his days at the Academy. Well, he’d misjudged her. She’d not only accepted it, but it had rubbed off on her fairly easily. Apart from the part where you had to keep your living quarters clean and tidy at all times, maybe. She was too chaotic for that, but that had done him some good as well. And if the time on Larsa had shown them anything, it was that working together, they made a damn good team. He’d thought that a million times and he doubted he’d ever think otherwise.

            Alex was taking the lead now, walking uphill again as they headed for the stretch of forest connecting the former town with the village and the mine next to it. Evan’s eyes rested on the back of her neck, at the small beauty mark there and about how desperately he didn’t want Woeste around when they entered the village. Or what remained of it.

 

The air was icy cold.

His skin was still warm from the blanket and the heat from her body, pressed up tight against his. Just lying here, just feeling her shift slightly, sent jolts of pain through his body. He really had to stop moving about. Whether or not that was a good idea, was an entirely different question.

            Her back against his chest allowed him to reach around her easily and brush his hand against her breasts. She had her hand entwined with his and he just knew that they were still in a very dangerous position. They couldn’t stay here. Not forever. The other villagers were hiding them well enough, but who could tell how long this subterfuge would last? He’d told her they would just have to wait it out. In the grey light in their small house, with the cow stomping angrily next door and the chickens clucking, he doubted whether they’d get a chance to wait. But they’d only arrived here a day ago and he wouldn’t get far on his leg.

            Leaning in closer, he pressed his lips to her shoulder. How he’d missed her! How he’d missed holding her like this and talking to her and being close to her without being terrified of revealing how he felt. Just a few days before Alex had arrived, he’d been almost determined to ask Brackley out on a date, but then Alex had turned up, and Brackley had gone out with someone from accounting. Not that Evan cared, but that chance, even the remote chance of making Alex jealous had just flown out of the window.

            “I should try to milk the cow again,” Alex grumbled, her hand stroking his arm.

            “Do or do not, there is no try.”

            “You’re such a nerd.”

            “And yet you recognized that quote.”

            Alex huffed and turned around in his arms, doing her best to avoid touching his leg. “Being a nerd is kind of part of the job description.” She looked so young then, younger than she’d been when he first knew her. He couldn’t help it. He had to tap the tip of her nose. Yes, they were in trouble, yes, they couldn’t do anything about it, but just at that moment, he was glad to be holding her again. To know that she had to stay with him.

            “Hey,” she grumbled, shuffling closer to him and kissing him full on the mouth. Why had they waited? Why had he drawn this out for so long, when it’d been inevitable?

            A soft clucking noise behind the thin wooden wall made her sigh and pull back the blanket. “Damn that cow and the chickens…” She didn’t sound entirely earnest as she cursed them and got up. Goose flesh appeared on her skin before she grabbed the bulky dress and threw it on. Smelling it, she wrinkled her nose. The woman who’d worn it before her had been bigger than she was, but that didn’t seem to bother her. And there wasn’t anything for it, really.

            “I’ll see if there are more clothes for you in the chest later, okay?” She turned to look at him and the tired eyes smiled down at him. “Scrambled eggs for breakfast?”

            “For breakfast and lunch and dinner for as long as we both shall live.”

            Grunting, Alex threw the blanket back over him. “Jerk.”

 

“Jim, how is it going with the house-hunting?”

            Woeste looked up, apparently confused at being called by his first name by Alex. She slowed her pace as soon as they entered the woods, her eyes darting up the slope on their right. They’d been somewhere around here when Ba’al’s ship had appeared in the sky above.

            “The- what?”

            “Didn’t you say you were house-hunting with your girlfriend?” How did she even know that? How did Alex know that Woeste was in a relationship and apparently looking for a house to buy? Evan looked down at her, his eyebrow raised. Should he be wondering why he didn’t know any of that?

            “Yes, well-“ Woeste cleared his throat audibly. “It’s not going too well, actually. We broke up a few weeks ago.”

            “Oh,” Alex said. “Sorry to hear that. And sorry for bringing it up.”

            A shrug was the first answer Woeste gave, but he didn’t look at either of them as he kicked a small stone into the dark green underbrush at the edge of the path. “Shouldn’t have been surprised. I was gone for a long time and things… change, I guess? Not everyone can take their loved-one to another galaxy with them.” He sounded almost bitter, but not quite. Not that Evan blamed him. His and Alex’s situation was quite different from that of most people.

            “That Athosian woman- what was her name again- won’t be sorry to hear about that, I guess.” Evan couldn’t quite suppress the smirk as he threw one more look at the Lieutenant, before retuning his attention to the path. To his surprise, it looked fairly well-travelled. There were some dried-up remnants of leaves in the deep grooves in the dark soil, none of them intact, just like carts had been running down this way only recently. No, this path didn’t look abandoned at all.

            “Unfortunately I won’t be seeing her again, anytime soon, will I?”

            “The IOA hasn’t reached a final decision, yet, Lieutenant. Give it some time.”

            Woeste gave a non-committal sound. It didn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out that this conversation was making him uncomfortable, but Evan was grateful for the distraction. Thinking too much about the times he’d walked down this very path to bring parts of their hard-earned harvest to the ring platform as tribute to Ba’al, wasn’t too encouraging.

            “There are plenty of other girls out there, Jim,” Alex said reassuringly.

            “You sound like my mom, Doctor.” Was there a trace of a smile in Woeste’s voice? Evan looked at him again and was relieved to see that the corners of his mouth were turned up.

            “Alex. Please.” She returned Woeste’s grin. How confident she’d become. He remembered, back when she’d first joined the SGC, she’d been determined to call everyone by their rank and last name, but nowadays she just thrust her first name at people like it was nothing.

            “Oookay.” Woeste looked at Evan, raising his eyebrow in question. Was he seriously asking Evan for permission.

            “Not my wife’s keeper, Lieutenant,” he said as Alex paused for a moment, to put up her hair in a bun. The ponytail apparently wasn’t working alright in this heat. It was just a matter of time, Evan figured, before she cut it again.

            “Right…” Woeste muttered. “Okay, then, Alex, have you been to see Lieutent Fisherman?”

            “Huh?” Alex asked, her head bent slightly over to fix the rubber band securely around the knot of hair. “Hasn’t he shipped out to Canada already?”

            “Not yet, no. Doctor Lam wanted to give him a once-over before releasing him. I was in there for a tetanus shot this morning, when she examined his leg. Chuck was with him the entire time.”

            “Okay?” Alex sounded a bit confused. “Why? Is it so bad?”

            “No, but they looked a bit distracted, to be honest. Didn’t even realize I was there.” He gave her a significant look and when neither she, nor Evan picked up on what he was saying, he rolled his eyes. “They were holding hands?”

            “Oh?” Evan asked, taken aback. “Is-“ he let out a breath, remembering that the Canadian military had a massively different take on homosexuality. “Right.” He exchanged a glance with Alex and knew that she was thinking the exact same thing as him. “Wonder when that’ll be okay for our officers,” he muttered. A lot of bad things could have been avoided, had Javier been allowed to grieve openly, they both knew that.

            Woeste shrugged. “Probably never,” he said, dismissing the thought alone and he was right. At least with the current administration, a step like that wasn’t at all likely.

            “I’ll check in on him when we get back,” Alex said, drawing the topic back on Fisherman as they started walking again. He’d been part of her team back on Atlantis after all. “I didn’t even know he was at the SGC at the moment.”

They weren’t too far from the village now. Another twenty minutes’ walk or so, would bring them right to the edge of it, but before another five minutes had passed, Evan heard it. The sound of a snapping twig. One quick glance at Alex told him that she’d heard it too. And so must Woeste.

            Evan looked up the slope casually, but he couldn’t see anything. Maybe it was just an animal lurking in the bushes, but he didn’t remember these woods to be full of game. And then he spotted a shadow whooshing between two trees. Slim, but there wasn’t much else to be seen. He raised his fist, ordering the two others to stop and prepare for the ambush that was surely waiting for them. “Who’s there?” He called out to whoever was waiting for them, feeling Alex stiffen by his side as she raised her P-90 while Woeste stood with the back to them. “Come on out!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

2007

First thumb and index. Then let the middle-finger, the ring finger and pinky.

Again.

The thudding sound with which the milk hit the wooden bucket should have been a satisfying one. It really wasn’t though. The smell of the chickens behind her was making her stomach churn, every single muscle in her stomach revolting against the pungent odour in her nostrils. And she wasn’t normally that sensitive. In combination with the warm teat under her fingers, though…

She wasn’t done. She needed another few more minutes. A few more squeezes, then she’d be free and could wash that smell of cow off her.

And of vomit.

Not necessarily in that order.

“Are you done?” Evan was standing in the narrow doorway behind her, his feet placed squarely on the loose floorboard under which they were hiding the gun and the radios he’d brought back. He was holding his knife and etching another short, thin line into the wood of the doorframe. Alex had lost count, and maybe he had, too. But this was his daily ritual and she wouldn’t rob him of it. He could stand again, that was something, and he was back at work, which meant that they could start repaying the villagers for their kindness.

Kindness. What a strange word. It was so much more than that.

“Almost.” Alex was breathing through her mouth now and it made the whole thing a bit easier. Just a bit, though. She could still taste the air. The molecules of manure and used-up air in the heat of late-summer.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded. “Fine,” she lied as she squeezed for the last time and just a thin trickle of milk joined the rest in the bucket. “I’ll make some butter today,” she promised. She’d done it a couple of times with Clara’s help, but she’d give it a try later today.

One of the chickens behind her, flapped its wings, waving more of the smell in her direction and that was it. Placing the bucket securely at Evan’s feet, Alex stormed out of the small barn door and through the door to the narrow outhouse standing right next to it. She regretted her decision straight away. The smell that hit her here was even worse than the one inside the barn, but it made throwing up that much easier. Heaving, she leaned over the small hole in the seat, her eyes shut tight so she didn’t have to see.

It was over before she knew it and when she was done, she did feel a bit relieved, even though she felt Evan’s gaze on her. He was waiting behind her, a wet cloth in hand. “Are you okay?” he asked, the concern in his voice making her heart sink.

“Yep,” she muttered, calculating quickly, calling to memory the numerous lines in the doorframe and her head starting to spin almost straight away as she came to her feet and took the cloth from his fingers. The fabric was cool against her skin. All she needed right now was a toothbrush. A proper one. But that couldn’t be helped. And neither could the fact that she hadn’t worried once about getting pregnant since coming here. “Must have been the smell… I really hate chickens.”

Evan nodded, but his eyes were still narrowed, his jaw still clenched. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Dabbing her forehead and her mouth, Alex shrugged. No, she wasn’t. If she really was pregnant, then this whole situation was a million times worse. She’d be an even bigger liability to him.

“Okay…” clearing his throat, he took a step towards her and kissed her forehead. “I have to get to work now. The neighbour’s kid is going to be picking up the cow later.”

 

Every muscle in her body was ready to act. To start running, to fire into the underbrush, whatever Evan ordered her to do, except leave him alone. If one thing was out of the question, it was that, and he knew it. Not that there would be anywhere for her to run to, if they really were surrounded. And he’d probably made the right call. It might be easier to take a chance negotiating than it would be for the three of them to ward off an attack.

            “Who’s there?!” He repeated, his voice loud and clear.

            She felt Woeste shift behind her. “Do you really think-“

            “Shut up,” Evan interrupted him and his head snapped to the right. To the trees and bushes there. And then the branches and twigs were pushed aside, revealing two groups of boys on either side of them. Alex counted about ten, all of whom were bearing arms. Zats and staff weapons mostly. But still… they were boys, some of them barely teenagers.

            “Evan? Alex?” The voice only sounded vaguely familiar, but the face belonging to that voice, made her feel as though she’d run into a wall.

            “Cuthbert!” Evan lowered his gun straight away and after just a moment’s hesitation, Woeste followed suit. “What- where did you get those weapons?!”

            “From one of the weapons stashes!” Cuthbert. It was really him! Much taller and lankier, but still him. The boy who had become so attached to Evan during their time here. And here he was, all skinny and far too tall for his face, which was surrounded by a mat of mud-blonde hair.

            “Sir?” Woeste sounded worried, his eyes darting between the boys pointing Jaffa weapons straight at them to Evan.

            Cuthbert was the first to lower his staff weapon, which must be as tall as he was. How old was he now? Thirteen? Somehow, in her memory, the boy who should be dead, had been much younger, but there he was, alongside a group of other boys, most of them older than he was, but not by much. Their clothes weren’t as well-kept as they used to be, but Alex recognized some of the faces, all of them had been their neighbours. The fact that it was them who’d lain in wait, not their parents, was like a punch in the gut.

Cuthbert was Oswald’s and Clara’s son. He had a sister, who’d been so small Clara had still carried her everywhere. And now, standing in front of them was that boy who’d been so keen on Evan whittling him a ship.

“Your parents?” Evan asked carefully, as he lowered his own gun and signalled for Woeste to do the same.

Shaking his head, another boy, about sixteen or so, stepped forward and it took Alex a moment before she remembered the name. Uhtric. “They were killed. All of the adults were, when you were discovered.” The bitterness in his voice couldn’t be denied, and Alex couldn’t even begin to blame him for his resentment.

“We thought you were dead,” she said quietly, stepping forward and trying to ignore the fact that the grey eyes and the thin mouth reminded her of Agnes, his grandmother. “All of you.”

Cuthbert frowned. “Why did you come back now?”

She could feel Evan shift uncomfortably by her side. He must be struggling between his official role now and the role he’d had here once.

“We hear Ba’al had left this place,” Woeste jumped in and Evan threw him a venomous look.

“Ah…” Uhtric’s eyes hardened. “So you’ve come to-“

“No!” Alex interjected. “No, just to see what had happened here.” Yes, they had come to salvage. The mine on this planet had been profitable enough for Ba’al to set up a small garrison here, so it was of course worth looking into. “Please. There was no way for us to come back until now.”

Cuthbert looked at her directly then, his light blue, deep-set eyes desperate to find an ounce of truth in hers. “Come on, let’s show them the village.”

 

She almost expected to smell it. The charred wood. The cold smoke still hanging in the air. But it’d been years. Of course that smell wasn’t there anymore. The damage however had been done. The bigger houses adjacent to the village square were nothing but a couple of wooden beams anymore, the bare roofs hanging dangerously low into the empty structures.

            The houses further outside hadn’t been burnt, but the signs of neglect were all too apparent. Nobody had tended to the weeds springing up between the dwellings, the vegetable patches lay barren and covered with grass in front of them. The only thing that had been subject to regular use was the road leading up to the mine.

“What happened here?” Woeste asked frowning.

“We were discovered,” Evan said tonelessly. “The Jaffa rounded up the others, took Alex and me to the Ha’tak. We just assumed-“ he broke off and looked at Cuthbert, who was walking by his side. And even though the boy had grown immensely, he was still too small for the staff weapon he was holding now.

“Well, you assumed wrong.” The bitterness in Uhtric’s voice was well-deserved. The villagers had taken them in, had helped them, and assuming they’d all died had been bad enough. But this place had been a fortress, the Tok’ra who had worked to free them had barely got her and Evan out of here. And yet, all the excuses she could think of were just that: excuses. “They just killed the adults,” he continued, “We were sent to the mines until a few weeks ago when the Jaffa left. Since then it has just been us and the girls.”

“Girls?” Alex asked. Of course, they didn’t just keep the boys alive. “Where are they?”

“Up at the mines. We don’t live here anymore.” Cuthbert looked at her directly. “Where is your child?”

Alex swallowed hard. “She’s gone.”

A nod was all the response she got. There was no sympathy in Cuthbert’s gaze and Alex didn’t think either she or Evan deserved it. They had brought this upon these kids. They’d brought death and destruction. Why should she even expect sympathy?

“I’m so sorry,” Evan said hoarsely.

Another nod. “We’ll show you to the mines, unless you want to take a look around?”

Alex and Evan exchanged one look and they both nodded, before Woeste could say anything. Evan reached for his radio for the scheduled check-in with Andrews.

 

The lines etched into the wood of the doorframe were still there. He traced them with his fingernails, feeling them catch in the ridges he’d made. It all looked like it hadn’t been touched since they were taken from here, and that was probably true. Nobody had any business coming here.

Not for the crookery, or the bed, or the mouldy, half eaten bread sitting in the centre of the table. Alex walked over to the board where the two metal spoons were lying like trophies. Because that’s what they were. Evan had made a new rake for the smith, who’d given him these spoons in return. The payment had been much too big for the rake, but Alex had taken in the smith’s children while the smith’s wife was in labour.

            He found himself smiling at the memory and wasn’t at all surprised to see Alex pick them up and shove them into the inside pocket of her vest.

            Evan looked into the small barn, at the abandoned chicken nests and the place where their cow had been. What had happened to her, they’d never know.

            Alex’s hand closed around his and he revelled in its warmth, in her presence. Just for a moment. One brief moment of reverie, before it was time for them to move on and start making decisions. First with Andrews, then with Landry and these kids. What would happen to them? Had a Prior already been here to convert them? Those were questions which needed answers. The priority was not basking in memories of a time long gone by.

            “What do you think is going to happen with them?” Alex echoed his thoughts.

            Shaking his head, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed her temple. “We’ll see. We can’t take them away from here if they don’t want to go.”

            “But they’re just kids.”

            “We’ll see,” he said again, though he really had no clue as to how to proceed. Cuthbert and Uhtric were still outside with Woeste. According to Uhtric there were eight girls or so still up at the mine, whereas most adults had fled through the Gate as soon as Ba’al’s troupes had left. Maybe they could help these kids rebuild? If they wanted to stay? But none of them could be older than sixteen, so leaving them probably wasn’t a good idea. He sighed. Out of all the things that could have happened on this mission, he hadn’t expected to find a group of kids still hanging around.

            Alex however didn’t appear to be completely satisfied with his answer, and, to be fair, neither was he. But guesswork wouldn’t get them anywhere. And neither would lingering in this house.

            “Let’s go join the others,” he said before she could protest.

            She pulled a face, but didn’t say anything else. Letting go of him, she stepped through into the barn to the place where their cow had stood, while Evan moved back into the house and reached under the bed, ignoring the fear of accidentally touching a mouse or a rat. But he found it without too much trouble.

            Alex smiled as he joined her in the doorway leading from the barn out into the abandoned road, brushing dust off the little whittled doll he’d made. It wasn’t perfect, not by far, but he’d made it with their child in mind and now that he was back here, he couldn’t just leave it behind and screw the regulations.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

2007

Uhtric’s eyes were fixed on the glass in his hands. The transparent container in front of him seemed more interesting than his surroundings, though it couldn’t be the only thing he’d seen that day that surprised him. First the journey through the Stargate, then the arrival on Earth and the exam by Doctor Lam and the food Evan and Alex had brought him and Cuthbert. The pasta had done little to make the boys warm up to them however.

            Neither Uhtric, nor Cuthbert would look at her or Evan as they sat waiting for General Landry, who was still talking on the phone in his office. Through the glass window she could see him standing up behind his desk, the receiver pressed against his ear. He held up one hand when he saw her looking. Not long now.

            “I had no idea you came from a place like this,” Cuthbert said quietly. He was sitting upright in his chair and his knee was moving up and down so quickly, it made his chair tremble. When he finally raised his head to look at the two of them, she saw nothing but confusion in his face.

            The two Larsans, Evan, Alex and Andrews were the only ones present. Woeste, Anna and the others had remained on Larsa to help distribute the supplies among the children there. They hadn’t sought asylum, so only Uhtric and Cuthbert had returned here for negotiations.

            “No need to get accusatory with these two, young man,” Andrews chided Cuthbert calmly.

            “Sir,” Evan shook his head, “it’s okay. They have every right to be angry.” He took a gulp of water. “And no, we didn’t tell everyone. Your fathers knew. They were involved in the planning and I told them a thing or two. You didn’t need to know.” He didn’t assume a defending position and Alex was glad for it. He was already laying a lot of blame on himself and she wasn’t all that different, but it was no use assuming the role of the guilty party for the rest of the negotiations, especially since it hadn’t been her or Alex who had killed their parents.

            Cuthbert’s lip twitched and not for the first time that day, did he look like the boy they’d met first. Being reminded of being a child, and of his parents on top of all things, couldn’t be easy on him. He wasn’t among the oldest boys on that planet, but he’d assumed a leading role in their group and so he’d come along.

            “What are we waiting for here now, anyway? We should be getting back to our people,” Uhtric complained.

            “We’re waiting for the General to finish talking to Doctor Weir. She’s one of our world’s leading negotiators. Probably the best in two galaxies.” Evan picked up his pen and started twirling it between his fingers as he looked over the file in front of him for the umpteenth time. He was nervous.

            Uhtric’s reaction wasn’t entirely unexpected. “A woman?”

            With a sigh, Alex got up from her chair. She’d felt Uhtric’s disapproving gaze on her since their encounter in the forest. “Yes, a woman,” she said. “Deal with it.” Why was she even that tense? She’d grown used to her position in that society easier than she was comfortable with now. Had she been a different person there?

            The Gate below activated and Alex stepped to the large window overlooking the Gate Room. A scheduled dial-in. She watched as Jonas and his new team SG-2 came through. They’d visited the Kelownan refugees on the Beta Site. None of them had wanted to stay here and on the Beta Site they could at least be outside until they found a more suitable world for them. Yes, they’d been granted refugee status, but where were they supposed to settle here on Earth? Resettling them and offering protection was really all they could do. And so they’d all left. All of them but Jonas. Again, he’d volunteered to help the Tau’ri, but he hadn’t regained his old vigour and by now Alex doubted it’d ever come back. Really, he and Vala should form a club. With Daniel gone, she was almost as glum as the Kelownan, though she hid it way better.

            “I didn’t mean to offend.” Uhtric sounded apprehensive, but Alex didn’t turn to look at him. Jonas had looked up and had just raised his hand to wave at her, when the door to the General’s office opened.

            “Alright,” Landry said, sitting down in his chair. “Doctor? Care to join us?”

            Alex didn’t wave back and Jonas left through the door on the left with his new team. She took her seat next to Evan again and opened the file.

            “What did Doctor Weir say, Sir?” Evan asked, sounding slightly concerned. None of them had heard a peep out of her for the past few weeks. Sheppard was leading his own team now, so were a couple of others from the expedition, Beckett was back working at the SGC as well, whereas McKay had been asked to work at Area 51. Somehow they had all scattered across the world within days. But somehow Alex had expected Doctor Weird to be more active in the SGC’s work. She’d led this program once after all.

            “She just confirmed what we’ve already been suspecting,” Landry looked at the two boys seated with their backs to the glass window. “We are willing to negotiate a trade agreement with you, but we can’t accept the produce of your labour.”

            Uhtric frowned. “Excuse me?”

            “You’re children,” Andrews closed his file and shook his head. As though this matter was already over. As though there was little left to discuss.

            “So leave us alone.” Uhtric shrugged. If he was offended by Andrews calling him a child, he wasn’t showing it. “There’ll be other worlds we can trade with.”

            “Yes, but how long until another Goa’uld comes to conquer you? Those deposits are still there, aren’t they?” Alex was looking at Andrews. Why was he being such a jerk? It wasn’t these kids’ fault their labour couldn’t be part of any deal they would strike. Of course child labour laws didn’t apply to other planets, but they also couldn’t rip these kids away from their home!

            “Plenty.” Cuthbert was staring down at the file in front of him. There was no way he could read what was written there. Most people on Larsa couldn’t read and those who could didn’t use the Roman alphabet.

            “And the Ori? We told you about them. How do you think you’re going to defend yourselves against them?”

            “What we can offer you,” Landry interjected, leaning over and tapping his pen on the highly polished mahogany, “is food and supplies, manpower to rebuild your homes and protection in return for you allowing us to work that mine.”

            “So, we wouldn’t even work on our own property?!” Uhtric asked sceptically. “You’d give us food and, as you say, supplies, but leave us with nothing else? What are we going to do once you decide to leave?”

            Alex stared down at the file in front of her. At the pictures she and Evan had taken of the mine and the village. Seeing those images in print made them feel alien. Like they didn’t belong to her. And yet, they struck a nerve. Like friends she’d long ago lost. “You could go back to your old life as far as that’s possible,” she said quietly and wasn’t at all surprised to hear both Uhtric and Cuthbert scoff.

            Biting her lip, she looked at Evan.

            “Keep some of the trinium,” Evan said. “Twenty percent? Twenty-five? Use it to trade with other worlds.”

            Alex nearly choked on her own saliva. Twenty five percent?! That was nothing!

But she’d underestimated Uhtric again. The boy just smiled and shrugged. “Sixty. And you I assume you have better equipment than we have. Give us some of that, show us how to use it, we’ll mine on our own. We’ve been in that mine for years.”

            “No. That would disrupt the process.” Evan smiled appreciatively. He’d wanted Uhtric to react like this. “Thirty. You can have the equipment when we decide to leave.”

            “When the mine’s run dry? Forget about it.”

            “Let’s call it forty,” Landry interjected. “You will get forty percent. Those of you who turn eighteen are shown how to use the machines and you can take over from one by one. Then we’ll work on another agreement.”

            Uhtric hesitated for a moment and exchanged a brief glance with Cuthbert. After a long moment, Uhtric nodded.

 

“Major, could you please stay for a moment?” The way Landry's eyebrows were pulled together didn't bode well. Whatever this was about couldn't be happy news.

Alex touched Evan's arm as she walked past him with Andrews to escort the two boys back to the Gate. The contract would be drawn up within a couple of days, but until then, the two could just as well go back to their homeworld. The rest of their teams would be back within the hour. Landry was standing in the doorway to his office, waiting for Evan to follow him inside.

Even better. A conversation that had to be held behind closed doors. He hadn’t had one of those in years. Was he in trouble? When Landry didn’t offer him a seat, he found that suspicion confirmed. “Sir?”

“This isn’t going to take long,” Landry said, picking up an A4 envelope sitting on his desk and handing it to Evan. “You’ll be going to Washington tomorrow.”

His heart sank. “Washington?”

“Yes, Major. Colonel Sheppard has to be off-world for a couple of days and since you were his executive officer on Atlantis, the IOA wants to talk to you.”

So it would only be for a couple of days. Not so bad then. He cleared his throat and nodded. “About what exactly? Woolsey and General O’Neill are still in Pegasus, surely they can provide the IOA with all the info they need.”

“Yes, but they haven’t been there as long as you have. I understand this is about that outpost the IOA was thinking about. We already have a couple of Marines stationed on New Athos, so the military is still involved of course.”

“Is Doctor Weir coming?”

“No. She specifically asked me to stop calling her just now. Looks like this little piece of consulting work she just did is the last she’s going to do for us. You’ll meet up with Doctor McKay in DC.”

McKay… well, he had been head of the science department, and Evan doubted there was anybody more familiar with Lantean technology than him. “So they’re actually putting it on the table? Another expedition?”

“Looks like it. Or maybe they just want to wrap things up with this talk.” The coffee in the General’s mug was bound to be cold after an hour of talking to the Larsan Representatives, but he downed it like it was nothing, he didn’t even pull a face. “Make sure to sell it well, Major.”

But since the IOA hadn’t been completely fond of military personnel in the past, Evan wasn’t entirely sure he could pull that off. And McKay wasn’t a person too many people liked upon first meeting him. “General?” Evan began, tapping the envelope, “I’m not sure I can pull this off, and McKay isn’t too nice upon first meeting him either.” Landry’s chuckle was just another confirmation of what Evan had just said.

Evan had no idea when he’d started growing to like the man himself, but somehow McKay had just wormed his way into Evan’s good graces. “Maybe I could take along Doctor Lorne as well? Or Doctor Schneider? If anybody knows anything about the cultures of the Pegasus galaxy, it’s probably them.”

“Fine. Take whoever else you need to convince them. We owe it to the people there to help them as best we can.”

And there it was again. That lump in his throat that came up whenever somebody mentioned how big the mess was the people of Earth had created in the universe. But it wasn’t as though nobody was thinking about not cleaning it up. “Yes, Sir.”

Chapter Text

 

 

2007

Alex wasn’t in her office, or in the cafeteria. She’d probably gone back to the lab, where she, Jonas and Balinsky were still working on cataloguing the items from Ba’al’s lab. They’d made huge progress, and it looked like they’d be done by the end of the week. That was, if she didn’t agree to come to Washington with him.

            He grabbed a mug and filled it with coffee. If Alex was working with Balinsky, then he didn’t want to intrude straight away. He might as well get busy on writing his report for the last mission. Not that he was looking forward to it too much, and he was relieved, when Sheppard entered the cafeteria, a bunch of files under his arm. Their eyes met and Evan just knew that the Colonel didn’t feel like paperwork either.

            “Major,” Sheppard began, joining Evan at the counter, “care to join  me for a piece of cake?”

            “Absolutely, Sir,” Evan agreed, grabbing one of the small plates and sitting down at one of the tables with it, his mug and Sheppard.

            “What’s that?”

            “Uh, carrot?” Evan shrugged and eyed Sheppard’s chocolate cake. That didn’t look too bad either.

            “I hear you’ll be going to DC instead of me? Guess I got lucky.”

            “Apparently so,” Evan picked up one of the forks from the metal container in the centre of the table. “Where are you gonna be? Must be important for Landry to send me instead.”

            Sheppard pulled a face. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t think the mission we’re going on is that important, but Landry wanted to show off a more diplomatic face than me.”

            Nearly choking on his coffee, Evan pressed one of the napkins against his mouth. Great, the coffee was hot enough to burn its way up his nose. He shook his head. “I’m not a diplomat either.”

            “No, but your record is impeccable.”

            “Not exactly. You know I had a hearing last month.” Evan balled up the tissue in his hand and shoved it into his pocket. His eyes were still full of tears from the little coffee scare.

            “About Ba’al? Yeah, I heard. That Andrews can be a bit of a jerk.” At least he lowered his voice, but Evan still wasn’t comfortable either shaking his head or nodding.

            “He’s okay,” he said almost as quietly, but glad that nobody else was around to hear them. “Alex gets along with him and that’s what counts.”

            “And the fact that you didn’t get court martialled because of him?” Sheppard shrugged again and started disassembling his cake one layer at a time to scrape off the raspberry filling.

            “Yes, that could have happened,” Evan admitted, recalling the hearing and remembering damn well that he didn’t regret, not even for a second, that he’d done what he did. One Ba’al less wasn’t a bad thing, and this particular one had it coming more than most others. “I guess the only reason it didn’t was because there are probably still about a trillion clones out there-“

            “Only a handful, as far as I’ve heard-“

            “-and because they were worried about a court martial against someone who shouldn’t have been on a mission like that to begin with.”

            Sheppard scoffed. “I miss Atlantis. I don’t think Weir would’ve been too hung up about sending someone into the field just because they were emotionally involved.”

            With a shrug, Evan picked up a piece of his slice with his fork. “I’m not so sure,” he admitted. Not that he didn’t miss the extra freedom they’d had on Atlantis, but only now that he was back, did he realize that their life on the expedition had been little more than a respite from what their military lives were supposed to be. Of course there’d been rules and regulations on Atlantis. They’d had a very detailed protocol for most situations, but of course with a civilian in charge things were handled differently more often than not. Life on the frontier just required protocol and rules and regulations to be more flexible. “And it’s not like everybody at the SGC always sticks to the way things are supposed to go.”

            “A lot fewer civilians around, though. No black market…”

            “Yeah… but the black market on Atlantis wasn’t all that exciting.”

            “You asked Zelenka for the wrong stuff, apparently,” Sheppard’s grin and tell-tale eyebrow wriggle made Evan wonder what he had missed and why the heck nobody thought of making him aware of the more exciting items available on the black market. He might have to ask Alex for more information. Although… Anna might be the better a source in that respect. Salt and vinegar chips probably weren’t the only items Zelenka could get his hands on when the cafeteria had run out of them.

            “We sound like a couple of grannies,” Evan sighed, taking another sip of coffee. As usual it was far too strong. “Longing for the good old times… it’s not so bad here.”

            Sheppard shrugged and the way he stared at his cake, as though it was the sole reason for all the misery he’d ever felt, made Evan shift uncomfortably in his chair. His life here on Earth wasn’t all that different from his life on Atlantis. There were missions, every single time he stepped through the Gate he might get to the most exceptional of places, and he had his wife with him and even some members of his team. Well, he had Woeste still with him. And Anna was here, but most importantly: Alex was there.

Things were different for Sheppard. He’d left his friends behind, might never see them again, and his other team member, McKay, was all the way over in Area 51. And to add to Sheppard’s discomfort: the Colonel had grown used to running things, to being in charge. Of course he preferred that to the stricter environment here on Earth.

            “Sorry, Sir,” Evan said, pushing his half-eaten cake away. He, after all, had some business left in the Pegasus galaxy as well and when Sheppard looked up again, they reached a certain level of understanding.

            “No, you’re right,” Sheppard said. “Out of all the ways the expedition could have ended, this wasn’t the worst.”

 

Anna entered the room, breaking the sullen silence between Jonas and Alex. She looked tired, but happy to be back at work. No small wonder, Larsa wasn’t a good place to be at the moment.

            “How did it go?” Alex asked when Anna shrugged out of her jacket, grabbed a cookie from the packet which Balinsky had left there the previous day and sat down at one of the desks.

            “Okay, I guess? Those two boys who came back a few hours ago looked happy enough.”

            “Where did you go to again?” Jonas looked up from his notes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The shadows under his eyes were growing darker by the day and if Alex had been worried about him upon his return, it was nothing to what she felt right now. He was overworked and overwhelmed. Not a good combination.

            “Larsa,” Alex said. A few years ago Jonas would have remembered that and every single detail of the mission reports. Now he only nodded absentmindedly.

            “Anyone left there?” He sounded like he was at least a bit interested.

            “Yeah, the kids,” Anna said through a mouth full of cookie. Really, her metabolism was incredible. The sheer amount of sweets she ate would have turned any other person fat within a month. “Ba’al’s other workers didn’t stay after he took off.”

            Jonas grunted, accepting the information but not offering his own thoughts on the matter. Two months. That was how long he’d been back. Two whole months and he couldn’t find it in him to sympathise with a bunch of kids who were stranded all alone on a world which could be the place of an enemy invasion any minute?! “Anna, would you give us a minute?”

            Shrugging, Anna grabbed another cookie and made her way towards the door. “Does anybody else want coffee?”

            “No, thanks,” Alex said without looking at her, but sighing, when the door closed behind her.

            Jonas was looking at his notebook, his knuckles white with the tension of holding on to it and for a second Alex wondered why Evan hadn’t left her when she’d been as distant as Jonas was now. Watching a friend in despair like this was bad enough but knowing that the person you loved more than anything in the world was shutting you out was infinitely worse. If Evan had only felt half as helpless as she felt now, she had to admire his resolve even more. But she wasn’t in the least bit as patient as Evan.

            “Talk to me,” she said quietly, forcing her voice to stay calm and not pushy. Was she already going too far? She couldn’t help but think that she was, but who else was there he could talk to? Carter had tried talking to him, but she wasn’t as involved with him as she had been when he was a member of SG-1 and Teal’c wasn’t talkative. Daniel was gone, so who else was there to force Jonas out of his shell?

            “Alex…” Pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut, Jonas looked like he was suffering from the worst headache imaginable.

            “It’s been two months. Sooner or later you’re going to have to talk about what happened-“

            “You know what happened.”

            “About what happened to you. I know what happened on Langara, but you’ve changed.”

            Jonas swallowed hard. He was sitting on the edge of his seat now, so tense she almost expected him to start shouting at her. Before he could, Alex took a deep breath and shook her head.

            “Forget it,” she said.

            “I can’t.”

 

Sheppard had just finished the rest of his cake, the raspberry filling the last thing to vanish into his mouth. “And there’s Doctor Schneider,” Sheppard said.

            Evan looked up. Another member of the Atlantis expedition who must be just as desperate to get back as Sheppard was. “Hey, Anna,” Evan said, sliding his plate towards himself again to invite Anna to sit down next to him.

            “You two knew each other before our trip to that galaxy far, far away, right?”

            “Yep. Doctor Lorne and I taught at the University of Trier together for a while.” She sat down in the plastic chair and started eying Evan’s cake. “Is that one any good?”

            “Sure. As good as any carrot cake can be.”

            “Ah, you were trying to eat healthy.”

            “Kinda…”

            “Right,” Sheppard muttered.

            “Do you know when the Daedalus will be leaving again, Colonel?” Anna asked, settling for a sugar cube from the little glass in the centre in the table.

            “Tomorrow as far as I know,” he replied. Their ship had come back from the Pegasus galaxy a few weeks ago, but Colonel Caldwell and a couple of other essential members of her crew had spent some well-deserved days on leave. But it wasn’t just Anna who was worried about their people who had remained millions of lightyears away.

            “Do you know if Alex is in the lab upstairs?”

            “Yep…fighting with Jonas. I’d suggest you wait for her to come here.”

            “That Kelownan?” Sheppard asked. “Why are they fighting?” He threw Evan a look, which would have driven Evan crazy a couple of years ago. It suggested that there might be something going on between Alex and Jonas. And it made sense, Evan had seen that the moment Jonas Quinn entered the picture. At first glance Alex was more compatible with Jonas than she was with Evan. Both were driven by the thirst for knowledge, they both loved books and were super enthusiastic about their work – not that those things didn’t apply for Alex and Daniel as well, but somehow Daniel had never appeared as a threat. What had made Jonas dangerous in Evan’s opinion was how easy-going he was. How eager Jonas was to make friends. The fact that the alien’s advances had never had the intended romantic effect on Alex hadn’t mattered to Evan when he’d been jealous of their connection. It mattered now. Especially since he was more sure of Alex than he ever had been.

            “He’s being a bit of a jerk recently,” Evan said. “And he wasn’t one before he came back. Alex and I owe him and I guess that’s why she’s finally decided to talk to him?” He looked at Anna with a raised eyebrow, but the Doctor just shrugged and popped another sugar cube into her mouth. The way it crunched between her teeth made him wince.

            “I had no idea you were into gossip, Lorne.” The smirk on Sheppard’s face would have made him blush a few years ago but working with civilians for such a long time had made Evan immune to that.

            “You’re not much better,” Evan returned with a polite smile and couldn’t help adding something else before he got up: “You were the first to tell everyone about that McKay-Beckett kiss last year, remember?”

 

When he reached the lab, he found the door open and Alex sitting alone at her desk, the pen in her hand drawing circles on the blank sheet of paper in front of her. The place wasn’t nearly as cluttered anymore as it had been when the archaeologists had first started working on the stuff. There were only a couple of crates and the odd smallish item here and there left to be catalogued.

            “Are you okay?”

            She’d been crying. Her eyes were still red and watery, the rest of her face eerily white, her skin almost transparent and seeing her like this tugged at his heart like little else could.

            “Yeah,” she croaked, brushing her sleeve over her eyes. “Sorry, I’m such a mess. This…” Alex cleared her throat.

            “What did he say to you?” The seat next to Alex’s was still warm. Jonas couldn’t have left a long time ago. The writing on the notebook in front of him wasn’t Alex’s. It was far less elegant and more mechanical. Like somebody who’d learned the Roman Alphabet stoically and hadn’t had years of practice to make the letters their own. Jonas’ writing. He’d left his precious notebook.

            Another soft cough as she tried to calm herself.

            Evan leaned closer, elbows on his knees. “Alex?” Should he take her hand? She didn’t look like she needed his touch right now and so he just sat there, waiting for her to speak. Whatever had happened here, had obviously shaken her.

            Her fingers were cold when she finally reached for his hand after another minute or so. “He didn’t want to talk to me,” she whispered, unable to meet his gaze. “But I made him…”

            “Where is he? Do I have to go and punch him after all?”

            Her laugh was choked, but it was there and the pressure of her fingers encouraged him to roll the chair closer to her.

“He’d just gotten married when the Ori showed up,” she started to explain and that introduction was enough to make his heart sink and he had a sense of where this was going. When she raised her head and looked at him, he found his suspicions confirmed.

“They had a kid?”

“They were going to,” she muttered. “She just told him she was pregnant when she got sick and lost the child.”

No small wonder Jonas was bitter. Even less of a wonder Jonas didn’t want to speak of those details to Alex of all people. Evan himself wasn’t sure how he would have survived had Alex died on that table on Ba’al’s mothership. “What happened to her? His wife?” His throat was dry as he remembered his own terror at seeing his own wife lying there motionless. For a second there he’d thought he’d lost not just his child, but also his kid. And in the end, he’d kept the one but lost the other.

“She recovered, but was killed as they made their way to the Gate on Langara…”

“Fuck.” Evan brushed his free hand over his chin. Stories like these weren’t new to him. It happened all the time, but to know someone he’d almost call his friend had suffered through this, made it feel even closer. “No wonder he kept quiet… I’d have gone insane.”

“Yes, me too,” she said hoarsely and wiped her face.

But the worst part was probably that Evan had to admit that he was glad that he’d been spared the worst.

 

Chapter Text

 

2007

“Well, if that wasn’t a waste of CO2, I don’t know what is,” McKay huffed, his shoulders hunched against the icy wind and his hands deep in the pockets of his coat.

            “I’m surprised you didn’t bite their heads off for dragging us all the way here just to tell us they’d let us know about their decision.” Alex pulled her woollen hat further down, but  no matter how well-covered her ears were, her ears were so cold she was almost sure one more touch and they’d fall off like icicles.

            McKay shrugged. “Sometimes I feel like I’m getting too old to talk to politicians like this. They’re all jerks.”

            With a scoff, Alex put on her gloves and looked down to the pavement, where Evan was talking on the phone to General Landry. This meeting had been a disaster to say the least. McKay was quite right about that.

When Evan had asked her to come along to make her point about a continued expedition to the Pegasus Galaxy, she had hoped she could do just that.  She’d hoped that the committee was just gathering all the information they could. That they were going approve the necessary funds to allow them all to go back and set up a base there without Atlantis in the picture.

She should have known that any reference to cultures and religions were wasted on these people. If anybody could have made an impact here, it was McKay, but without the city there was little to no chance the IOA would back an expedition that might deplete their resources without the prospect of future technological benefits. They wouldn’t even let Evan talk for longer than five minutes. Compared to him, she had gotten the chance to hold a lecture. A lecture of ten minutes, but still. She just wished she hadn’t bothered preparing a presentation. What a waste of time that had been. There hadn’t even been a projector. McKay at least had been clever enough to prepare no presentation. But people usually listened to him no matter what. He could rely on people being intrigued and at the same time annoyed by what he was telling them. Maybe Alex should try to adapt some of McKay’s characteristics. But even so the little conference had been over within half an hour.

            “We could have done this over the phone,” Alex grumbled and watched as Evan climbed up the stairs again.

            “Well, the General’s not happy.” Evan put his phone back into the dark blue coat he was wearing over his dress uniform.

            “Elizabeth should have been here,” McKay said quietly, making Evan frown, but before he could jump in and try to defend Alex’s presence even though McKay hadn’t even suggested that Alex wasn’t supposed to have come, Alex nodded.

            “Landry said she didn’t want to come,” she explained.

            “Yes, she’s been avoiding everyone,” McKay said. “Even Sheppard. And that’s saying something.”

            “Should we go get some lunch?” Rubbing her nose to get it warm, she looked first at Evan, then at McKay. “Our flight’s not till tomorrow.”

            “Mine’s tonight, but I have some time,” he said. “You can tell me all about those exciting missions you’ve been on. I have to say, I miss the excitement.”

            Evan laughed. “You’re sure? You miss the excitement? You?!”

            “Yes, I’m sure!” McKay said, sounding truly offended as they walked down the stark white stairs again, a thin layer of snow crunching under their feet as they headed for the pavement below. Alex held out a hand to attract the attention of one of the dozens of taxis driving by.

“Did I get to pick my own team, yes, but is it boring to sit behind a desk all day after getting to save the universe every five minutes? Also yes.”

            “I hear Zelenka is working on a project that’s supposed to save us all from Global Warming.” She couldn’t help herself. She just had to say it, and the way Evan grinned at her behind McKay’s back, made McKay’s snort even more satisfying. How often had he teased her, or even complained loudly about the resources she and Anna, the only two archaeologists on the Atlantis expedition, were using up. Not that he could ever quantify those resources or say in how far their work was impeding his, but the fact remained that he didn’t see their kind of science as a beneficial addition to the expedition. But still. He’d greeted her with as much civility as he could muster, he’d even made small talk with her and today, for the first time ever, he had treated her as his equal scientist. In the face of their enemy, in other words: people unwilling to grant them the resources they needed to complete their research, scientists stood together after all. It wasn’t the worst feeling in the world.

            “Supposed to,” McKay repeated testily as the taxi pulled up and stopped in front of them. “He’ll never get the funding he’s going to need for that.”

            “Ah, Rodney, I forgot how generous you can be.” Rolling his eyes, Evan held open the door for Alex and she had to admit, when she first came to Atlantis, she would never have believed that McKay would actually let her get into the car before him.

            “What did you hear from O’Neill and Woolsey?” McKay asked when they’d all managed to squeeze into the tight space of the backseat of the car, McKay himself seated between Alex and Evan.

            “Not much,” Evan said and told the driver the name of their hotel. They could just as well have lunch there. In this weather Alex had next to no desire to go sightseeing. Especially not after that meeting just now. “They dial in every week, send a report, but they don’t appear to be too happy? I was talking to Harriman the other day, when they sent their latest message. Nothing spectacular going on, but the-“ he threw a pointed look at the taxi driver and continued seamlessly, “people they’re living with don’t let them in on too much. I guess they’ll be coming back home, soon.”

            “What about Murdoch and his team?”

            “No news.” Clearing his throat, Evan looked at his phone. It was one of the newer ones, one which could send and receive e-mails. “Huh…”

            “What?”

            “Talking of which…,” he muttered and handed the phone to Alex. It was an e-mail from one of the members of the committee they’d just left. “That was fast.”

            McKay was reading the mail over Alex’s shoulder. “You’re going back?” he asked surprised. “Even though they don’t want to continue the expedition?”

            “Like you said,” Evan said, “We still have people there.”

            Back… they were going back. To wrap things up, yes, but still. They wouldn’t be going home to Colorado Springs tomorrow, but straight to a secure location and then they’d be beamed up to the Daedalus. Evan would be going with his team, which meant that Anna would be there as well. Sheppard wouldn’t like that, because going back to Pegasus like this would mean seeing Ronon and Teyla again as well, but the IOA was requesting Evan’s team and her team. Andrews would be there. Two SG-teams. “Looks like my plea for further research on culture in that place didn’t fall on deaf ears after all.”

            McKay made a little tutting noise. Their hotel had just turned up on the left side of the road and Alex was first to get out back into the cold. The phone was still in her hand. Another three weeks travelling through space. Her team would be there as well, which probably wasn’t a bad idea. She realized that sending two SG-teams meant that the IOA was determined to launch one last try to get their people back. One last push. And with the Daedalus there, they would have more firepower than before. That was, if Murdoch had discovered a trace worth following.          

            “Make sure you find them,” McKay said quietly. “Had the Ancients been more willing to help, they might already be back by now.”

 

Once again they were stranded on this ship. Once again there was little for them to do but go to the gym, eat, work on reports or research, and talk. Somehow someone had started bringing boardgames onboard and by now there was a whole shelf of them in one of the two major common rooms.

Most of them were probably remnants from when the Daedalus had brought the last of the supplies from Atlantis back home. Alex recognized at least two Monopoly special editions, one of which was constantly set up on one of the tables and nobody was allowed to touch it. Majors Marks, Brackley, Colonel Andrews and Evan had been playing since the first day the Daedalus had left and ever since the game had been a meeting place for them to play. How that game could continue for a whole week, nobody could say, but nobody seemed to care too much about it either. Even Alex lost interest after about half an hour during which nothing of interest happened. The players thought things through far too much for her liking. How they could stand resuming their game every evening at the same time and play for two hours straight with nothing ever really resolving, was a mystery to her.

            “Where are we by now?” Anna asked, her legs propped up on the bed. They’d both brought their laptops to Alex and Evan’s quarters to get some work done, when all they really did was sit, drink wine and talk.

            “Edge of the Milky Way galaxy? I guess this is the last stop before we get out of range.” She looked out of the window, at the stationary stars spluttered across the black backdrop of endlessness. They’d be here for another hour or so, before they resumed their journey with only one last stop at the Midway Station. They still had ten days to go.

            “Urgh, this is excruciating!” Anna reached for the bag of crisps which Alex had placed on the edge of the bed, where she was sitting. Anna was sitting in the chair, her feet up on the bed.

            “You never went home, did you? While we were on Atlantis?”

            “Nope… I wrote some e-mails to my parents and friends, but that was about it. I didn’t exactly feel like going back.”

            “Just because you got married, divorced a few weeks later and ran off to another galaxy?”

            “Because my parents invested half a fortune.” Anna’s lips twisted into a disgusted grimace as she tasted the vinegar on the crisps. “How can you eat that?”

            Shrugging, Alex ripped the bag from her friend’s hand. “It’s my comfort food. Evan has some chocolate stashed around here somewhere.” She reached over to his nightstand and pulled out the bar of milk chocolate. “That better?”

            “Yep.” Anna nodded appreciatively. “Won’t he kill me for eating his chocolate, though?” Not that she was too concerned by it. Alex watched on with a grin while her friend ripped open the package and popped the first piece into her mouth.

            “He still has a couple of bars in there.”

            “Huh… he doesn’t look like the type to eat that much chocolate.”

            “He keeps most of it for emergencies.” The chocolate was in the drawer of his night stand. The crisps, Alex had found out by now, were in a box at the bottom of their closet.

            “Chocolate emergencies. Sure… makes sense… Oliver always has toffees.” She looked down at the chocolate in her hand and sighed heavily. Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun and in combination with the sad look on her face, it made her look younger than when Alex had first known her.

            “I’m sure he’s okay,” Alex said, trying her best to sound comforting. Not that she could know what had happened to Oliver and the marines.

            “I’m just glad we’re going to get them back.” She sighed. “How do you do it? Just let him go for months on end? When you had to go back to Earth, you had no idea whether you’d see him again.”

            The pain in Anna’s eyes gave her a pang. “I don’t deal with it all that well.” She cleared her throat. “And you’ve been doing it for a while now as well? So has he?”

            Anna pressed her lips together and shrugged. “It’s just…hard, you know?”

            Alex hissed, closed her own laptop and sat upright. “Anna, when I first met Evan, he was flying in the Bosnian War! Of course I know! My dad was a pilot in the Royal Air Force. And of course it’s not easy, and there’s always a chance one of us might not come back.” She swallowed hard. Evan had to tell Doctor Pryce’s family and the families of the other scientists that their loved ones had gone missing and it hadn’t been easy on him. Far from it. And she knew what it meant to lose someone like this. Her father had been shot down and accordingly she’d known from the very beginning what going out with Evan Lorne might do to her one day. But so far they’d been lucky. As far as that word could be applied to them. “Sorry,” she said, realizing that maybe she’d been a touch too harsh. Anna’s father had been an accountant and since joining the Stargate Program, she had to learn a lot of things very quickly. In contrast, Alex had had a chance to ease into this life.

            “It’s okay… you’re right, I guess.” Anna broke off another piece of chocolate. “I just miss him.”

            With a sigh, Alex scratched her head and nodded. “I know… and I missed Evan like crazy when I had to go back home. Or when he had to spend weeks on end off-world and I was home alone-“ she broke off. Anna must know everything about Nora by now. Anna had been there in that lab when Evan had shot the Ba’al clone. Of course Anna knew.

            Her friend looked up tentatively and the way her nostril twitched told Alex that Anna was thinking the same thing. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about her?”

            “How long have you known?”

            “Oliver told me something about you two losing a kid, but never about the circumstances. I had to do some digging in old files.”

            Alex nodded. Those files… she wished they didn’t exist. There were just too many personal details in them and she hated that every active member of the Stargate Program could look them up. “It’s hard for me to talk about it… even to Evan. I guess there was a time when we were about to break up because of it…it’s getting easier, though. To- to talk about Nora.” She’d told Vala, hadn’t she? But Vala was different. Vala hadn’t known Evan and her as a couple before Nora.

            “Okay… I won’t mention her again.” Anna held out the bar of chocolate to Alex, who just shook her head in disgust.

            “No, thanks.” Clearing her throat, she threw a handful of crisps into her mouth. “What about you and Oliver, then? How serious is it? You’ve been sneaking around quite a bit on Atlantis, haven’t you?”

            “Well…” Anna began, pursing her lips, “I guess … we’ll see? I wouldn’t mind spending even more time with him?”

            “Right… nice way of putting it.”

            “I know!” Anna laughed and quickly let her feet drop to the ground when the door slid open and Evan entered. He stood in the doorway for a moment, surveying the chaos in his quarters. His eyes lingered on the chocolate in Anna’s hands and when he raised his eyebrows, Anna just handed him the whole bar. “Thanks for letting me have some of your chocolate, Major.”

            “Always a pleasure.” Breaking off a piece, he sat down next to Alex and casually brushed the crumbs off the cover.

            “What news?”

            “We’re not going to New Athos,” he explained and at that Anna’s eyes widened in shock.

            “What? Why?”

            “The Replicators have attacked Atlantis. Colonel O’Neill and Mister Woolsey managed to send off a message shortly before the connection was severed. So we’re going there instead. And Sheppard, Weir and Beckett commandeered the one and only Jumper we still had on Earth and went ahead via Midway to mount a rescue mission.”

            “But we won’t be there before it’s too late.”

            Evan nodded. “The current plan is to make another stop at the Midway Station, check in on Atlantis and proceed straight for the city to assess the damage.” He brushed his hand through his hair and shook his head “Even at full speed it’s going to take us at least ten days to get there.”

            And she knew what he was saying without speaking it out loud. They all did. Most likely, by the time they got to Atlantis, Sheppard, his team and everyone they’d ever been in contact with, the Genii and Athosians among them, might already be dead.          

Chapter Text

 

2007

“What’s going to happen once we drop out of hyperspace?” Alex was dreading the answer, and she knew Evan wasn’t too keen on giving it. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and set his mug down.

             After about twelve days of playing Monopoly he had folded and sold his two train stations and five streets to Marks for three bags of crisps and a box of chocolates. Marks and Andrews were still playing. Wh at else was there to do when they weren’t on duty. Evan looked over his shoulder at them and then back at Alex. “Nuke it.” A simple answer that made her gut twist painfully.

             “Sounds about right…but  didn’t Zelenka say that nuking wouldn’t destroy it all?”

             “Hm,” Evan grunted with a shrug. “I guess that’s what everyone else will be busy doing. Picking off bigger parts of debris?” What they’d do if the shields were raised once they appeared on Atlantis’s screens wasn’t even up for discussion apparently. Or whether they’d even stop to retrieve their people if they were still alive. They hadn’t been in contact with Earth since leaving Midway behind.

             “I talked to Caldwell this morning,” Evan said, picking up his spoon again to shove the corn around on his plastic tray. “He’s going to drop us off at the nearest Gate once we reach the Pegasus Galaxy so we can get to New Athos and join Murdoch and his team. Should be tomorrow.”

             Alex nodded and frowned at her blue jell-o. She wasn’t particularly hungry. Far from it. Ever since the news of Atlantis had reached them, she’d felt a bit queasy. Not just because that place had become as familiar to her as the SGC, even though maybe not as much, but because there were still people stranded in the Pegasus galaxy. Oliver. His team of Marines. O’Neill. She hadn’t forgotten what he’d first risked for her and how he’d spoken up for her and Evan later. Losing the city was nothing compared to losing those lives as well. “What did Andrews say?”

             “He’s not too fond of the idea of abandoning the new mission, so he’s going to Atlantis with his team.”

             She felt the warmth drain from her face, but before she could say anything, Evan shook his head and patted her hand. “You’re coming with me, Doctor. Seriously, are you okay? You’ve been skittish since we left Earth.”

             Shaking her head, Alex picked up her mug and held it between her hands. The calming scent of camomile rose up into her nose and she took a deep breath. “I’m okay. Just worried.”

             Evan raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment any further. “I’m gonna turn in.” He looked at Andrews and Marks again. Brackley had folded about five minutes after Evan, though her departure from the game had taken considerably longer than Evan’s. Andrews had won the bidding war for her shares and by now it was looking as though the Colonel was winning.

             “I’m coming with.” It was still a bit early, but she’d completed most of the work she’d taken with her on this trip and if she wanted to have things to do on the way back, then she needed to pace herself. And if they were going back on a mission the next day, getting some sleep wasn’t the worst idea. “I’ll take care of the dishes,” she volunteered.

 

The flowery scent  was overwhelming. Whatever this place was, it was surely a planet neither of them had ever been to or heard of. Her head was pounding as she waited for Woeste to dial New Athos. He threw her a concerned glance when Woeste touched the blue stone in the centre of the DHD and the wormhole engaged. She could see that he was about to ask her again if she was okay and that he was still worried, despite her assurances.

             Forcing a smile, she turned to Anna, who was wringing her hands nervously. She hadn’t seen Oliver in months and right now they didn’t even know if he was still alive. And the Daedalus had already left.

             “Let’s head out,” Evan said, a tone of annoyance in his voice.

             “Are you okay?” Anna whispered as first Evan and Woeste, then Ferres stepped through the event horizon.

             Alex let out a sigh. “Yes.” She wasn’t even sure why Evan kept looking at her like he was, or why even Anna now thought it was her turn to be concerned. “Come on, time to go. This planet is giving me headaches.”

             “Since when don’t you like flowers?”

             Not deeming that question worth a response, Alex followed the airmen through the Gate. The air on the other side was a lot more welcoming, much cooler and much less sweet. They were in a forest, which didn’t differ that much from the forests she and Evan had hiked through the previous summer. She breathed it in deeply and smiled at Anna when she emerged from the watery blue. “Much better, right?”

             “Yeah, that odour was a bit much,” Woeste said. “If we were going back to Atlantis permanently, I’d suggest we send a team of botanists there next.”

             “How far to the settlement?” Ferres interjected, rolling her eyes. She wasn’t one for small talk, Alex had realized that already and maybe that was the problem Evan had with her. He’d never said it out loud, and he probably never would, but no matter how professional Ferres was, no matter how proficient she was, she just wasn’t as easy going as Nabi or Menard had been and it was clear that Evan was still missing those members of his team.

             “A couple of clicks,” Evan said. Neither one of them had been on Atlantis when the Athosians had been moved from the Lantean mainland to this new world. Fortunately there was already a well-travelled path leading from the Gate into the trees. He reached for his radio. “This is Major Lorne from the SGC. Is anyone still there?” He didn’t restrict the contact to the Oliver, but to the Athosians and the Marines… or anybody who might still be there.

             The static which followed his first attempt made Alex’s heart sink and she saw Anna’s shoulders sag.

             “This is Major Lorne. Can anybody hear me?”

             Again. Nothing. Exchanging a look with his team, he jerked his chin in the direction of the narrow path. “Let’s go.” They were too few to leave behind a guard for the Stargate, and if there were enemies around, they needed to stick together. Alex stayed with Anna, while Evan took the lead and Ferres and Woeste formed the rear.

             Anna’s eyes darted from one tree to the next as they slowly made their way along the path, twigs snapping beneath their feet. The foliage above would provide a rudimentary visual cover for any observers from above, but it wasn’t enough to fool advanced life-signs sensors. Not by a long shot.

“What happened to them?” Anna asked, doing her best to sound casual when everybody knew that this silence could mean anything. The settlement could have been culled by Wraith. It could have been destroyed by the Replicators. The Athosians could have moved camp to another planet. Maybe Oliver and the Marines weren’t even here anymore.

             “We’ll see,” Evan said, evading her question and halting abruptly, when their radios crackled again.

             “Major!” Oliver’s voice. “Major Lorne?”

             Anna stood still, her eyes wide and tears shooting into her eyes as she let out a little squeak and punched Alex’s arm.

             Evan laughed softly, relief flooding his face. “Yes, Captain. Glad to hear you’re still there. We’re on our way to the settlement.”

 

Murdoch’s salute fell short, when Anna pushed Evan to the side and threw her arms around him, forcing him to drop his hand and hug her close to him. He threw Evan an apologetic grin  and buried his nose in Anna’s hair. His face was still round, but even so he looked older than he had when Evan had last seen him.

             Ferres scoffed disapprovingly behind Alex. That woman really needed to learn to let down her hair sometimes. With every growing minute she was getting more and more on Alex’s nerves, Evan knew and he wouldn’t have needed to see Alex roll her eyes at him.

             “Where’s the Daedalus?” Murdoch asked breathlessly and grinning broadly when Anna finally let go of him, wiping her eyes. “I thought that was the plan?”

             “It was, yes,” Evan said, “but I guess you heard of the Replicator attack on Atlantis?”

             “We kind of thought you’d gone to Atlantis with Colonel Sheppard,” Woeste threw in.

             The smile vanished from Murdoch’s face. “We were off-world, when the Colonel and the others turned up here. When we got back, they’d already left.”

             “I see.” Evan nodded. “The Daedalus is going to be back here in a couple of days to pick us up.” He was eager to hear what had happened here, what he knew about Atlantis and what their search had turned up. But since Pryce wasn’t there with him, Evan doubted the news Murdoch had for them was of the good kind.

             “What about Pryce, Rothman, Kozina and Gray?” Anna asked when they started heading towards the settlement. It couldn’t be far now.

             “We found Gray. We brought him back the day before yesterday,” Murdoch said, shaking his head. “Just knowing that there are Wraith Worshippers out there who are about as organized as the Jaffa isn’t making this whole thing really difficult.”

             “How many worlds are there like that?” Evan looked at him from the side. Murdoch had a gash on his cheek. Nothing too bad, but relatively fresh. It couldn’t be older than a day or two.

             Murdoch shrugged. “A couple of dozen? The Genii are a lot easier to deal with. At least they hate the Wraith as much as any sane person should.”

             “How is Gray?” Alex asked.

             “Okay. But I guess we were lucky to get him out of there when we did. He was working in a tavern and managed to run off, straight into us. He doesn’t talk much, though.”

             “Is he alright?” Anna blinked up at Murdoch, who threw her a careful smile.

“Kind of. He doesn’t really want to talk about what they did to him. He just gave us an address this morning. The place where they all ended up eventually.”

 

 “What do you think, Captain?” Evan blinked as the sun broke through the clouds above. “Is it a trap?” They were in one of the tents now, sitting in the entrance, a cup of tea sitting in front of each of them. Gray was in another tent. Evan had checked up on him first, but apart from the absent look in his eyes, Gray appeared to be okay. Not that Evan could blame him. Months of being a prisoner took a massive toll on a person. What Gray needed was rest and a good psychiatrist.

             “Most definitely. We were wondering whether or not to take a chance, though. Those guys have been missing for a couple of months,” Murdoch said, taking a sip of tea. “Halling assures us the address Gray gave us leads to a sparsely populated world. Near the Gate there’s a small village with a semi-successful marketplace. He doesn’t know anything about slave-trade, though.”

             Evan let out a breath and shook his head. This didn’t sound too promising, but if this was the only lead they had, then they should probably follow it. Carefully, though. And under any other circumstances, he would have stopped to consult a superior officer, but right now, at this moment, it was his call. He looked over to his team. Ferres was talking quietly to one of the Marines, while Woeste was chatting excitedly to that Athosian woman he had hooked up with last time. And then there was Alex, sitting on a stool and talking to Halling. When their eyes met, he felt a sudden cold rush down his spine, like he always did when he was about to know that she could be in danger. “Did you lose anyone these past few weeks?”

             “No, Sir.”

             “When was Gray taken from that planet you have the address of?”

             “Two weeks ago? He’s not sure.”

             “So the trail could be cold again.” It sounded all too familiar. Almost like the ambush they’d walked into once before. “I still don’t get what they want with a bunch of geologists. To turn up out of the blue and kidnap a group of scientists. Why them?” Had it just been a first attack? Would other teams have been abducted as well?

             “Me either, but it’s the only lead we have. Hadn’t you turned up when you did, we would have left already.”

             Evan nodded thoughtfully. “I agree, Captain. We shouldn’t wait another moment. If we know that this could be a trap, we’re far better off than last time at least.” It wasn’t an entirely comforting thought, but it was better than nothing. “Assemble the team, we leave in half an hour.” He got to his feet and headed straight for Alex. She already had her notebook out, but for once she didn’t appear to be taking notes, but drawing. Halling was bent low over the page and nodded appreciatively.

             “What’s that?” Evan asked, kneeling down next to Alex. He recognized it, before Halling spoke.

             “A map. The layout of the village, Major. I thought it might be a good idea for me to come along.”

             Evan nodded. “I was going to ask you to come along. Always better to have someone there who knows what we’re getting into.”

             “I agree.” Halling looked down at the rudimentary map with a frown and held out his hands to Alex. “May I?” He was the leader of their people as long as Teyla wasn’t here. And Teyla, as well as Ronon, had accompanied Sheppard when he’d come here with McKay, Beckett and Weir. The fact that he was still willing to help them was comforting.

             “Sure.”

             “Thank you, Halling,” Evan said quietly as Halling started adding things to the map.

Chapter Text

2007

Neither of them had entered a church in years.

             Up until now nobody had made them. Their grace period was over. Alex’s mother wouldn’t accept no for an answer, and there wasn’t much to protest against either. This Jesus guy hadn’t hurt either of them. He hadn’t killed their daughter. Evan was too much of a realist to think that, and he’d never been religious enough to believe in a vengeful God.

Or in a merciful God.

But somehow he’d always thought- he’d always hoped that there was someone, something out there watching- well, not out for them, but over them. In the past few years that hope had started to crumble and by now there wasn’t any hope of that kind left. He felt like a cynic, sitting in the pews next to Alex, her icy hand in his, as they listened to carols and an endless sermon. No, if there was a God, if there was someone out there in the universe who cared about him, then he’d certainly lost Evan’s attention with Nora’s death. And Alex must feel the same way. Being a scientist who studied religions and cults, she’d always had a slightly different approach to spiritual matters, but whatever she had believed in before she became a mother and then reverted to not being a mother, was long lost. Otherwise she would have asked to have a real wedding ceremony. In a church. She would have said something. And she wouldn’t be sitting here now, her eyes turned up at the stained glass windows with a slightly curious glance.

             It was Christmas. A mass, which was held far too early for someone who had been at a wedding celebration the night before, and she looked tiredly, albeit curiously at the figures. At the depiction of a scene which they both must have seen a thousand times, each time executed a bit differently. A tall, far too white man with a brown beard, surrounded by even more far-too white men carrying banners and staring in awe at the man in their midst. The preacher kept talking on and on about how Jesus had been a carpenter, how he’d been placed in a manger and died upon the cross and how both of these items had been made of wood. Really, the man should probably have preached about love and the value of non-material gifts, but instead he chose a topic that nobody really cared about or could relate to. And Alex was instead staring at the glass-version of Jesus, who had raised his hands to show his disciples the wounds on his hands.

             “What are you thinking about?” he whispered.

             She shook her head and took off her glasses to wipe them on her handkerchief. “Nothing.”

             “Come on, no lies on Christmas.”

             Her half-choked laugh interrupted the preacher for a moment and he threw the both of them a venomous look, which couldn’t even begin to match Rachel’s. Taking his hand into both of hers, she leaned a bit closer. “I was thinking about something my professor said in uni. How we always try to see ourselves in those pictures, how we make this carpenter look like us, when he most certainly never looked like that.” She stopped for a moment and when their eyes met, he had to grin. It was almost like she’d read his thoughts. And it didn’t just appear to be a Christian tendency either. They’d seen it on countless worlds, where Goa’uld posed as Gods, possessing a human host to be more approachable. What if Christian belief was nothing but an adaptation of this? A man who was revered as a God. Well, if that theory didn’t turn the head of conservatives in the military, nothing would. She squeezed her hand again. “And then there’s the fact that I can’t stop analysing pictures in churches. It’s kind of distracting. Symbols relating to other stories. It’s fascinating.”

             “Good,” he whispered back. Her thoughts were so much more pleasant than his. He really shouldn’t be too angry with Rachel for dragging them to church. It was important to her and didn’t hurt either of them. Especially not, when they found art they could talk about. “Tell me about it?”

             “Sh!” Rachel hissed at them and Evan bit his lip, trying to hold back a chuckle. Alex’s hand closed a bit tighter around his for a moment and she grinned at him. The new glasses looked strange on her, he thought. Still, after about a month, the way she looked sometimes surprised him. The rims of the glasses were a bit thicker than before, which probably meant that they wouldn’t break as easily as the previous ones had, but for future missions she’d decided to try contacts, even though she’d been a bit apprehensive of them until now. He still doubted whether she’d put them in at all. But she’d go through the Gate again. And again. She’d go with him, or tell him about what they’d found. She’d do all she could to keep this world safe. And so would he. There weren’t a lot of people who could talk about their partner like that.

             “What?” she whispered even more quietly so her mother didn’t shush them again.

             “I’m just thinking how lucky I am,” he said. And he was. He really was.

 

Halling and Evan were walking in front, talking quietly. Ferres and Woeste were staying behind to guard the Gate. With Halling and Seven Marines, they should be able to cover enough ground. That was, if nobody expected them to show up here, but after two weeks that wasn’t all too likely.

             They’d talked over the layout of the village before dialling the address and everybody knew where they were supposed to be. Oliver would be accompanying Anna and Alex as they browsed the merchandise on offer, while Halling and Evan would be going to the tavern to talk to the people. The Marines would station themselves inconspicuously around the village square and keep an eye out for anything unusual that might happen. Alex was just glad the Athosians had borrowed them all clothes which were long and concealing enough to hide the fact that they were all in uniform. Right now one of the few advantages they had was that the entire galaxy thought nobody of their expedition remained in this corner of the universe.

             The buildings ahead in the distance were half hidden from direct view from the Gate by the outer edges of a forest. In terms of settlements this village was accordingly nothing too much out of the ordinary for this galaxy. As a fairly prosperous place for trading, the village was in walking-distance of the Gate, but still well enough placed that people could seek refuge in the woods easily enough if the Wraith showed up. The watch tower placed in the centre of the village was a dead giveaway though, but at least from there the guards had a good view of the Stargate and potential enemies. The question remained what kind of defences the people had set up that Halling didn’t know about. The heather on either side of the well-travelled road could be hold anything from wild, exotic berries to secret hideouts and deadly traps. The air was icy cold and burning in their nostrils as they followed the path.

             Alex saw Evan clap Halling on the shoulder once, before he fell back until he was walking directly next to her. They were still about two clicks away from the village. “Anna, could you give us a minute?”

             “Sure?” Anna didn’t question it, just picked up the pace until she was walking next to Oliver, as Evan grabbed Alex’s sleeve and stopped her dead in her tracks. The Marines were walking past them without looking at them once.

             “What’s wrong?” Alex whispered, but Evan’s gaze was still fixed on the backs of the Marines, waiting with his lips pressed together. He threw her one look and she realized that he was dead serious. What was this?!

             His breath left traces of white in the air as he took another step toward her, his hand still on her arm. “Can I send you in there without worrying?”

             “What?!” She almost felt like jerking her arm from his grasp, but by the way his right eyelid twitched, she knew that he was already worried. “I thought we’ve been through this? Years ago!”

             Evan shook his head. “That’s not what I meant.” He was whispering now, even though the Marines were already far out of earshot. They would have to hurry up to catch up with them and right now Evan was causing a scene which wouldn’t help either his standing or hers.

             “Oh, come on,” she muttered, putting her hand on his and almost flinching at how cold his skin was. “Let’s just go.”

             But his grip on her sleeve only tightened and his eyes darted from her eyes to her middle. “Are you sure, you’re not pregnant?”

             Like a blow straight to the chest. That’s what it felt like. The look in his eyes, the concern, the hope, the warmth. It would have been enough to make her want to turn around and run off, if it hadn’t been for the way Evan was looking. Like the answer might crush him. “Yes,” she said decidedly and his mouth dropped open, making her shake her head immediately. “I mean, no. No, I’m not.”

             “Are you sure? You’ve been acting-“

             With a sudden movement she pulled herself free, unsure why she was so angry. “Like what exactly?” This wasn’t his fault. But this also wasn’t the place to ask this question.

             All the colour drained from his face. “Sorry… just… with the not eating anything and the way the flowers made you feel weird and-“

             “Leave the guessing to me, please, Evan. As of this morning, I’m not. Is that good enough for you?!” And no matter how much he hoped for it, no matter how much she wished it, she felt weirdly offended at him asking her like this. Right now. Although, of course he had to know for sure before they walked into what might very well be enemy territory. And she had been late. He must know that, he usually knew, but he could just as well have asked her on the other side of the Gate.

             But he didn’t pull back. He just nodded, his brows drawn closely together. “Fine,” he almost spat at her. “Forgive me for worrying.”

             “Right,” she huffed, all the piled-up frustration seeming to leave her body with one breath. Months. They’d been trying for months. Without ever talking about it again. And here it was. One question bringing all the secret hopes and fears back within the blink of an eye. “So, can we go now?”

             He stood for another moment, his eyes fixed on hers and the anxiety had vanished, making room for relief and determination. Alex didn’t know what frustrated her more. But she still let him take her hand. She still matched her pace with his as he drew her back to the group, her palm slowly warming up in his as they hurried to catch up with the others. It made the coldness of the air bite even more into her skin when he let go of her again and resumed his place next to Halling. She couldn’t help but stare at the back of his head, wondering if, maybe, she should have handled this differently. She just hated how this kept happening to them. How one moment things were perfectly fine and the next one small incident would derail them.

             Swallowing hard she crossed her arms as she walked, doing her best to warm her hands under her armpits as she walked and feeling the reassuring firmness of the P-90 beneath her wide cloak. She just wished they’d spoken their apologies out loud instead of communicating via touch. Usually it was enough, but not when they were about to head into a potentially dangerous situation. And the village was drawing ever closer. Not long and they’d be past the first few houses. She took another deep breath and blinked, annoyed at the sudden burning sensation. Yes, he was right. She might have shown symptoms. And she might even have gotten to the same conclusion, had her period not set in that morning. What she hated more than anything about this was that he was waiting for signs as much as she was and that they weren’t talking about it. That their silence had been leading up to this little meaningless fight.

             “All right,” Evan said suddenly without breaking stride as they reached the first houses. “Let’s split up right here.” Their group looked suspicious enough walking up to the village, their size alone making them unusual visitors, but walking the open field in smaller groups might have been dangerous. Here there was more cover for them. Here they could afford to bring more space between the individual smaller teams. The Marines broke off without another word. They’d be in radio contact with each other and them in regular intervals and just seeing them walk off made Alex’s heart beat faster. It was making this even more real. She remembered what Evan had told her about the last failed attempt at recon he’d been part of. That set-up in which he and his team had been attacked. The one in which one of his men had died.

             She caught his hand as inconspicuously as possible as Halling, Oliver, Anna, Evan and her made their way further down the road and into the town centre. Whatever his question had done to her, no matter how small and irrationally insignificant it had made her feel, she didn’t want their last words to have been spoken in anger, if it came down to it.

             He stood for a brief second, just long enough for the others to overtake them. The first villagers could be seen walking busily between the houses without paying them any attention. His breathing was heavier than it should have been after such a short walk and his eyes darted from her eyes to her lips. “It’s okay.” His voice was slightly deeper than usual, but that one short sentence was enough. For now. Because there would be more.

             Alex nodded once and leaned in to kiss him. Just for a second, though for that brief moment when their lips touched, she felt as though she might freeze solid there and then. His skin was so cold and his breath so warm. “I’m still sorry,” she said, her teeth chattering. Her glasses were already fogged up from his breath. Shaking her head, she took them off and wiped them on her cloak. And why hadn’t they asked Halling’s people for warmer clothes? Although she had to admit, the long brown cloak with the thin fur-lining, made Evan look even more like the farmer he’d once pretended to be and the thought made her chest swell with pride.

             “Let’s discuss this later.”

             Later.

             Later was good.

             Later she could live with. The concept wasn’t all bad.

             “Major!”

             Evan whirled around, hand under his cloak on his gun. Oliver had called him, but instead of staring into the market place, he came hurrying back to Evan and her.

             “What?” Evan hissed as Halling and Anna talked quietly on the side of the road. “If there’s no emergency, don’t shout my rank like a crazy person!”

             Oliver swallowed hard. Nobody seemed to have heard him over the hubbub in the square. “Yes, Sir. Sorry.” He turned around and Alex followed his gaze to the high wooden structure of the tower. The architecture of it wasn’t elaborate, no carvings or extra beams would suggest any other purpose than a watch tower, until the one short extra beam, stretched out like a warning finger, came into view. She hadn’t seen it before, and neither had Evan. He let out a curse the same time she felt a cold, which had nothing to do with the icy air, rush down her spine. They hadn’t seen it, because the body hanging from that beam, strung up by its neck was almost the same greyish colour as the wood behind it. There was no wind, so it wasn’t swaying. It was wearing ordinary, drab brown clothing, but the face was familiar enough, even though the eyeballs were nothing but bloody, dark holes in the skull.

             “Is that…” Evan breathed, staring up at the frozen body as a dark black bird with a crimson spot on its chest soared down from the sky and sat on the body’s shoulder, finally sending it swinging.

             “Doctor Kozina,” Alex said, her throat tight.

             They all stood there for a moment, neither of them able to move, until Alex averted her gaze when the bird’s head twitched in anticipation of another meal.

“We got to get her down,” she heard Oliver mutter and Evan nodded in agreement. “I’ll take care of it,” he said tonelessly, “I-“

“No,” Oliver said sternly. “Sir, let me.”

Alex blinked, doing her best to fight down the urge to throw up. She was almost sure she could hear the rope creak from stiffness and strain. Forcing herself to breathe, she looked up at Oliver again. He felt like this was his fault. His responsibility. Had he been here sooner, this might not have happened. Evan considered him for a moment. “Okay,” he agreed. “Take Halling and Anna and go see what you can do.” He put his hand on Alex’s back, steadying her before she even knew she needed it. “If they don’t agree to give us the body, we’re going to make a scene.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Alex and me are going to see if we can find anybody else.”

Oliver nodded again. He was pale, but there was a determination in his eyes which Alex had rarely seen there before.

“Take care, Oliver,” Evan said quietly. “Meet you in twenty minutes back here.”

Another nod, and no acknowledgement of Evan using his first name. “Twenty minutes it is.”

Evan’s hand on her back was all that could have gotten her moving and she was grateful to be able to wrap her arm around his waist after a few steps. The layers of clothing prevented her from feeling his warmth, but just to know that he was there, to feel the comforting weight of his arm around her shoulders as they strolled almost casually into the midst of the people who had strung up one of their people, was enough for now. “Can I ask you, if you’re okay?” he asked carefully, his eyes darting between the market stands. There was no venom in his voice, no resentment, but she felt her stomach give another lurch at the question.

“I’m not,” she admitted. “You?”

Shaking his head, he dragged her to a stall with jewellery made from scrap metal. Just as though they were any old couple, just strolling over a market place in the search of a mug of mulled wine and a trinket or two. Like there wasn’t anything unusual about this. Her gaze drifted to the body again. The bird had gone, but there would be others. And still she avoided looking at the face. All she could focus on was the burn mark on the hand hanging limply from Kozina’s side. She couldn’t make it out from where she was standing and quickly looked down again, when a soft breeze made the body sway. She’d seen bad things in her time with the SGC, but this was something else entirely. “When the Romans put someone up on a cross, they would string up anybody else who showed sympathy for the person sentenced to death,” she whispered, as though to keep her mind from racing with facts. With things she could remember and hold on to. And things here looked so much like she’s always pictured scenes like this. Nobody looking up in terror or sympathy at the body on display. Everybody ignoring the obvious sign of threat literally hanging over their heads.

Evan pulled her a bit closer as he pretended to be browsing the merchandise, metal clinking between his fingers. Scrap metal fashioned into cheap jewellery. Necklaces, bracelets, rings… nothing she would care for, until something else caught her attention. An oval shape. A familiar symbol. She reached into the pile of bracelets and picked it up. Polished copper with the symbol stamped into it. The sounds around her seemed to fade as she held it up for Evan to examine. Two crescents, one mirroring the other, forming almost an almost intricate, but sharp-looking pattern, as they pointed up and down. Two horns sprouting from the lower crescent like the horns of a bull. She’d seen it hundreds of times and so had Evan.

He bit his lip and things seemed to fall into place. The theft of the blueprints at Area 51. The retrieval of items from the lab near Babylon.

And there was just no other explanation for it, because the Ba’al cult hadn’t emerged in the Milky Way galaxy until the Ancients had long abandoned Atlantis.

“How much?” Evan asked the trader, not bothering to haggle. There was no time for it, and they both knew this might be just the evidence they’d need to convince the IOA to resume the Atlantis expedition, even if the city was lost to them. If Ba’al had turned up here, if his symbol was making an appearance here, they needed to investigate.

A movement above them made Alex turn around, and she was still clutching the bracelet in her hand, as the body was slowly lowered to the ground by a thick-set man. Oliver was standing beneath the tower, his uniform on full display now. Anna next to him was looking pale, but relieved at the same time. Next to her were the other scientists, none of them looking too happy or healthy, but clearly present and there. Pryce and Rothman. Both alive and free.

Chapter Text

2007

Halling was so pale Evan was sure he was going to start shaking with fury, even after they’d passed through the Stargate to New Athos. “This has never been an issue,” he said, his nostrils flaring as he watched Harper and Jameson, two of the Marines carrying the gurney into the next tent. “The people of this galaxy may not always get along, but with the threat of the Wraith hanging over us-“ he broke off and filled a mug for Pryce and Rothman. They were sitting in the main tent with a clear view of the central space of the village. The late spring sun of New Athos was illuminating their surroundings, making it all the more surreal that they’d just come from a frozen planet where they’d bargained for the lives and the corpse of a fellow member of their expedition. “I am so sorry.”

            Pryce looked up at him, rubbing the mark on her dark skin, as though it were in itch. Ba’al’s symbol. The one his Jaffa had worn on their foreheads had now been burnt into her skin. It had healed, but it would never really fade. Murdoch had examined it the moment they walked out of the village, this lips pressed into a thin line and his hands shaking with rage.

“It’s not your fault,” Pryce said, her voice firmer than Evan would have thought possible. “We weren’t expecting an attack."

            “The attack is not the issue.” Halling’s eyes narrowed.

            “Let’s all just sit down and talk for a moment, okay?” Evan interjected, before they could start a fight over something that couldn’t be changed now.  “Let’s bring Gray in and talk this over.”

            “Gray?” Pryce’s eyes grew wide. “He’s here?!”

            “We thought he was dead,” Rothman said, her eyes darting to the entrance of the tent as though Gray would appear there any second. But Gray was still in a separate tent, still staring blankly at the tent wall, unwilling to speak. Alex was with him now, trying to get through to him. “They-“

            “Tell us what happened. We have all the time in the world.” And they did. They’d come through a separate Gate to hide their tracks as best they could. They could only hope that Halling hadn’t been recognized as an Athosian, or it might be quite probable that slavers might turn up here on New Athos. In either case, when the Daedalus returned, they’d better stock up the weapons’ cache just in case.

            Pryce swallowed hard and nodded. “We heard that nobody was left on Atlantis,” she said quietly now. “We didn’t think anybody would ever come for us.”

            “Never stopped looking,” Murdoch lied. Not an outright lie, but he made it sound as though that search would never have ended. It’d been clear from the very beginning that if they hadn’t found them by now, the Daedalus would have taken them home. Nobody but perhaps the Athosians would have remained here to look for them. “I’m just sorry we didn’t get there in time for Kozina.”

            Nodding, Rothman took the mug of tea from Halling. “Yes. She-“ he coughed through his red beard. “She ran. Three times. That’s why they strung her up.”

            “What about Gray?” Evan asked. Gray had been brought in earlier after all. Two whole weeks before. But Gray was hard to talk to.

            “The people who took us from that planet were-“ Pryce exchanged a glance with Rothman and continued in a wavering tone, “their ship appeared out of nowhere. Must have been cloaked.”

            “Wraith don’t have cloaking technology,” Murdoch interjected, but Pryce just shrugged and drank from the mug Rothman gave her.

            “Well, it wasn’t a Wraith ship. It was some kind of- I don’t know. Didn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen. Not Lantean, not Wraith, not Goa’uld,” he added, catching Evan’s gaze. “But they put us to work straight away. Not Gray… Gray they used as…” she broke off and Rothman looked at his hands.

            “Leverage?” Evan suggested and Halling next to him shifted uncomfortably.

            Pryce nodded. “Yes.” She sounded like her breath had to pass a pipe full of sandpaper.

            “What did they want from you?”

            “Help them with soil samples… they came from different regions, probably different planets. Tell them where they could find certain minerals.”

            Evan stood up. Minerals. Soil samples… He let out a breath and started pacing. “Ba’al? Right? That symbol, the technology. It has to be him!”

            Rothman bit her lip. “We never saw that symbol until a few weeks ago on that planet.” His eyes drifted to his hand. “Never saw him.” The way he and Pryce sat there, hunched shoulders and so incredibly thin… And Kozina was in another tent, her maimed body waiting to be sent back home. Nothing but an empty shell. And for what?!

            “Who is Ba’al?” Halling asked, but Evan didn’t have the time or patience to explain properly.

            “I need some air.” He felt Murdoch’s gaze resting on him as he stormed out of the tent. Not that the air outside was any better than inside, but he just couldn’t bear looking at the two geologists anymore. The leaves were starting to come in on the trees around them and that should have been an encouraging sign. He closed his eyes for a moment and told himself that it was. Three of the four people who had gone missing were still alive. They were safe. They’d be coming home. Murdoch would get a medal at least. And they had a lead to Ba’al. That was something. He just needed to learn to appreciate it.

He blinked into the blue sky overhead. Azure with traces of white clouds. In the shadows it was still a bit chilly, but here, out in the sun, among the Athosians who were busy planting and organizing the next hunting party, he should feel safer than he did. To his right, he saw Alex leave Gray’s tent, her face pale, her gaze steady. She was holding on to the bracelet. She’d been the one to spot the symbol. She didn’t need any other explanation, not from the geologists. There was little they could tell them they hadn’t already guessed. Behind him, in the tent, he heard Murdoch start to explain to Halling about the Goa’uld. About how they’d been defeated in the Milky Way galaxy. And they could do it again. They would do it again. And eventually they’d track down all the clones and be done with them.

            Alex nodded at him once, then walked away from him, past the tent in which Gray was still sitting, staring and speaking little if at all. Evan followed her without a moment’s hesitation and once they were out of sight, he drew her close, holding her head as her forehead was nestled against the side of his neck. Their fight completely forgotten for now.

            They didn’t need words to discuss what had happened. They didn’t even need to guess. It’d been clear since the moment that symbol had appeared. First on that bracelet, like it was just some kind of decorative ornament, then on the hands of their people. Murdoch had only managed to free them with threats. Their people were already involved in this new conflict, had been, really, from the very beginning. Ba’al had targeted their scientists. That was something he still needed to tell her, though she might already have come to that conclusion.

The people who had ambushed Evan and his team had been opportunists. Wraith Worshippers they might be, but they also owed allegiance to Ba’al in one way or another. Ba’al had stolen the blueprints to copy the hyperdrive for one of his vessels. He had modified the Goa’uld cloaking technology and given it to the Worshippers, or any other kind of mercenary willing to work for him. And by now he was starting to build a new empire here in this galaxy. With the Atlantis expedition gone, he could start showing his face now. They didn’t have any hard proof, but they had clues. Clues, which just had to be enough for the IOA.

            Alex clutched at him, but with every breath she took, with every beating of his heart, he felt her relax in his arms, he felt his own breath starting to calm down. “It’s never gonna be over, is it?” It wasn’t a question, but he just had to say it. He had to speak those words, before he got angry again. Closing his eyes, he took in her scent. It hadn’t changed much since that first night they’d spent together.

            “Doesn’t look that way,” she agreed, took a deep breath and pulled away. “How are they?” She meant Pryce and Rothman, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud. He didn’t want to. Instead, he just shook his head.

            “We just have to get them back. All of them.”

            Nodding, Alex wiped her face, the way she did when she was tired and exhausted. “Get them back and request another meeting with the IOA.”

 

“We’re staying.” Doctor Weir looked as relieved and elated as Alex had ever seen her.

The message had come in about five minutes after she and Evan had returned to Pryce and Rothman. Teyla had met them halfway to the Gate. The thing was, they’d never have to sell anything to the IOA. The committee came through on their own and within minutes on top of that. Because, once again, Sheppard and his team had insanely, incredibly done it. Weir, McKay and Sheppard had managed to destroy the invaders by turning the city’s shield into a disruptor, which rendered the Replicator cells inert. And here they all were, back in the Gate room of Atlantis, the moonlight streaming in through the tall stained glass windows as it always had. The place remained fully intact, perhaps even more so, now that the Ancients had been here, doing repairs and supplying the city with three new Zero Point Modules.

            “We are?” Evan asked, sounding not entirely convinced and Weir nodded. “Colonel Caldwell didn’t say anything about that.”

            A smile flickered across Weir’s face. “Well, we are. And so are you, if you want to.”

            So, all of a sudden it was a choice? Alex looked past Doctor Weir to the staircase ahead, to the familiar Ancient writing and to Doctor Beckett, examining Gray, Pryce and Rothman. There couldn’t be more than twenty or so Tau’ri on the base right now, but if the IOA had approved of the expedition resuming operations, then there would surely be more people here within the next couple of weeks and Beckett would have plenty to do. He caught her eye and nodded in greeting. What would they be without him?

            McKay was back at the main control station, hectically going over the data there, Teyla was back on New Athos to gather food from there, so the Daedalus didn’t have to empty all its stored food.

            “Where’s the Colonel, Ma’am?” Evan asked, immediately falling back into the chain of command. He’d search out Sheppard and set up security for the time until the fresh units or airmen and Marines would turn up. She wouldn’t be seeing a whole lot of him until then. Right now, the Daedalus was still in orbit and would be staying there for as long as necessary, but Caldwell little authority on the base itself. That responsibility fell to Sheppard. That was, if things remained the same.

            “Up in the Jumper Bay, Major.”

            Evan nodded curtly, signalled for the Marines to take up position in the Gate Room to relieve the guards Caldwell had placed here upon arrival, and waved at Oliver to follow him. He hesitated for a moment. “Good job on saving the city, Doctor Weir.” He was smiling. Relieved. And Alex felt the same. Atlantis was safe for now.

            “Thank you, Major.” Weir smiled at him, then motioned for Alex and Anna to follow her up the stairs, while Evan, Oliver and Woeste turned right and headed straight for the other staircase, which would lead them straight up to the Jumper Bay. “So, I take it you two would like to resume you positions here as well?”

            Alex managed another smile and nodded. “If you still have use for us?”

            McKay cursed loudly at his work station, completely ignoring the new arrivals, while the Marines took up position. Where Ronon was, nobody could say for sure. Probably walking the halls, making they really were secure with a couple of soldiers from the Daedalus.

“Have General O’Neill and Mr Woolsey already left?” Anna asked as they walked past the grumbling McKay and into the empty room which was, once again, Weir’s office.

“Yes,” Weir breathed, more alive than she must have been back on Earth. She’d barely come through for the SGC, when they asked her for advice with the Larsans, but now she looked relieved. Happy even. As though she’d been waiting for this moment. As though nothing could ever again remove her from this place, and her enthusiasm was catching. Alex found herself returning Weir’s grin. They still had work to do in the Milky Way, even on Earth, but her work here had been interrupted as well. Where she picked up really didn’t matter, as long as she was stationed on the same planet as Evan.

“What can we do to help?” Anna asked, looking around, clearly missing the comfortable seats which had stood at the glass front overlooking the Gate room.

“We need to take inventory,” Weir explained, using her hands and fingers to list things, because she didn’t have her tablet or anything to write. “of the supplies we have, of-“

“Hang on,” Alex stopped her, taking off her backpack and producing an empty notebook and a pen within seconds. She’d started having them on hand again once she rejoined an SG-team. What would Andrews be doing now? Would he request Alex come back to Earth with him? Probably not. She’d never been as warm with him or the other members of her new team, as she had been with Pierce and the others.

Weir’s grateful smile would have made a five-year old think they’d done the most incredible thing in the world and provided a parent with the best Christmas present ever. It almost made Alex blush. “Thank you.” Without further ado, Weir just sat down on the floor and started making a list. “So… supplies. What do we need… food-”

“Furniture,” Anna added, looking around. “Did the Ancients clear things out, or the Replicators.”

“As far as I’m aware Ancients liked to sit. Machines not so much,” came a sarcastic voice from the doorway. And there he was. Back in the real world. McKay strode into the room, hands on his hips. “We should use the Jumpers to start ferrying people back here as soon as possible. The Gate Bridge works well enough for that.”

“Yes, thank you, Rodney.”

“I’m going to need Zelenka back. And a couple of others-“

“Yes, Rodney,” Weir said, raising her head and shaking her head. She ripped a piece of paper from the notebook and handed it to Rodney. “Make a list. We’ll compare notes later.” With a wave of her hand, she invited Alex and Anna to sit down next to her, while McKay remained standing in the doorway, apparently flustered.

“We’ll have to file transfer papers,” Alex said quietly.

“Let me worry about that,” said Weir more confident than Alex remembered her being. Not that Elizabeth Weir had ever been timid, but right now she seemed like she’d been waiting for this for months. And maybe she had been. From what Alex had heard, Weir hadn’t worked in any field since the expedition had abandoned the city. Weir’s green eyes flashed with excitement as she looked up. “And we’ll get more funding, from what I heard. More people. So, if you know of anyone we could use around here, name them.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

2007

He got off duty shortly before midnight. Not that he minded staying in the control room that long. Most of the paperwork wasn’t all bad, especially since things had been more or less calm these past few months. They’d been back on Atlantis for almost half a year and things hadn’t changed much, apart from the fact that there were more people here now. The occasional catastrophe or encounter with a strange alien culture were routine and not much different from life on Earth.

That was: not much different for life on Earth for those few people who worked a thousand metres beneath Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. The only difference from his life there right now was the location. This wasn’t home. Not really.

He still missed going back to their own house in the evening. If they still were on Earth, they could have a dog again. They could be sitting on their porch in the morning before breakfast, sipping coffee and watch their dog chase a squirrel.

             If.

             And when.

             Really, that was just a dream. The truth was, back on Earth they’d be working just as long, they’d still miss domestic life a bit, and at the same time they wouldn’t miss it. Just like missing their house and the home they’d made for themselves was more like missing an old friend. A friend you might have had in high school. Just that kind of guy you got along with really well and idealized in his absence, but also that kind of guy you didn’t really need to have in your life constantly. That, somehow, was life on Earth to him nowadays. Because here he could be with his wife just as well. Here, he could go on missions with his team. He had friends here. This place was becoming almost as much a home as their house on Earth. Almost. Because there were always a couple of things he couldn’t have here. And a couple of things he might never have at all. But who had it all anyway?

             Evan looked up as Murdoch climbed the stairs to the control centre. Evan was sitting on the topmost stair of the Gate Room. He could have used Weir’s office for doing his paperwork, but he really didn’t think that was proper. That was her space. And he preferred the staircase overlooking the Gate Room and the view of the stained glass to his right and left. The colours looked different at night. The coloured glass was much darker, almost black, but not quite and if you stood outside on the balcony, the city stretched out below you, you could almost forget you were in a place which had been built millennia ago.

Chuck had been picked up by Fisherman a couple of hours before for a late dinner, the rest of the technical team had left at about the same time and the relief crew was busying themselves with reading or chatting quietly. At this hour nothing ever really happened and apart from a short, insignificant power spike in one of the old Ancient labs, nothing out of the ordinary had disrupted the shift. The two scientists cataloguing that lab had reported to the infirmary and apparently there wasn’t anything wrong with them. After Doctor Beckett cleared them, and no further energy bursts had been picked up by the sensors, Chuck had been pulled away to the elevator by Fisherman. Those two really didn’t even try to hide their relationship and nobody seemed to mind, though there were bound to be some other members of the expedition who envied them the ease with which they could live it. But all in all things on Atlantis were alright.

             “Anything fun happen?” Murdoch asked, ruffling his already untidy hair, as he walked past the technicians and towards Evan.

             “Not really,” Evan shrugged. “Everything calm and peaceful the way it ought to be.”

             “Evening, Major!” It was the technician again. The one with short, dark hair and the tiny nose. The one whose name Evan still hadn’t picked up. But she wasn’t looking at Evan.

             “Evening, Johnson!” Murdoch waved at her, before turning back to Evan. He sat down next to him with a contented grin on his face. It didn’t take much guesswork to figure out where he’d just been. Not that Murdoch tried to hide it. Another thing that wouldn’t have been possible back at the SGC.

             “Looks like she might have a little crush on you,” Evan whispered, making Murdoch shake his head and laugh. He really needed to start remembering that name. Johnson. It wasn’t that hard! He closed his laptop. He was through most of the most recent mission reports anyway.

“I’m sticking with my girl, thanks,” Murdoch said quietly with a wide grin. He had been promoted to Major shortly after their official return to Atlantis. And his rank wasn’t the only thing that had changed. He and Anna hadn’t moved in to separate rooms, but were now sharing  one of the city’s countless apartments.

“Did you see Alex?”

“Waiting for you in the cafeteria as usual,” Murdoch said with a shrug.

They’d taken to do that. Whenever Evan had a late shift, Alex would wait up for him so they could share a meal together. It wasn’t the same as him cooking for her in their own home, but it was something. “So, tomorrow afternoon?”

Murdoch nodded, rubbing his neck. “Yes,” he croaked. “But let’s play volleyball first.” They’d picked up the habit again right after their return. Like nothing had happened, their lives here on Atlantis had just resumed. Like their time back on Earth had been nothing but a short interlude.

“Chicken,” Evan grinned.

“What if-“

“One look into those big hazel eyes of yours and she’s going to melt.”

“Anna Schneider does not melt,” Murdoch protested.

“You sure you want to ask her? You haven’t been going out that long.”

Murdoch scoffed and shook his head. “Look who’s talking.”

“I really shouldn’t have told you,” Evan said grumpily getting to his feet and not really regretting telling Murdoch about how long it had taken her to finally propose to Alex. A proposal, which led to an almost instantaneous and long overdue signing of documents. Those documents legalized a marriage which was already there. Just not on paper. “Since your promotion you’ve been a bit too cocky for my liking.”

“Nah, I’ve always been that cocky, you just never noticed. Now off to dinner with your wife, or she’s going to kill me for keeping you.”

             “You know,” Evan said, “you might be right.”

 

Alex was deep in conversation, bent over a notebook and scribbling something, when Evan arrived in the empty cafeteria. This place was never empty, because people around here didn’t exactly follow a strict working schedule. They were here on Atlantis because they liked to work, to study, to train, to explore the galaxy, and some of them, if not most of them, usually worked well into the night. During the first few weeks of the expedition, or so Sheppard had told him, the cafeteria had been closed during the night, but that had changed quickly enough. There was always some food to be had here and the refrigerator in the corner always held sandwiches, salads and fruit for those people who would come in at three o’clock in the morning to grab a little snack. But of course there were also the midnight board game tournaments, often held by the youngest members of the expedition, though this time Evan spotted de Clare right in their middle. The dark, middle-aged man stood out somewhat with his stark grey hair, but Fisherman and Chuck had joined up as well, helping him raise the age average slightly. What game they were playing Evan couldn’t quite make out, though it was clear that it involved a fair amount of slapping cards on the table and accidentally hitting each other. He remained standing at the railing for a moment, watching them on the lower level and trying to figure out what their game was about.

Alex was sitting on the upper dais near one of the windows, Jonas by her side who was talking to her like always had, gesturing wildly and bent low over their notes. He had come here with most other members of the expedition and though Evan had been surprised to see him board the Jumper when he was back on Earth to pick up another batch of scientists to take through the Gate Bridge, he hadn’t commented. If Jonas wanted a fresh start and his help was wanted here, then who was Evan to argue. Hadn’t he an Alex eventually sought and found a similar thing here? Not that it had really worked for them. Well… it had worked in some ways at least and that wasn’t nothing.

Evan picked up one of the trays and loaded it up with some of the better-looking sandwiches from the fridge. Tuna and corn, and egg and mayo. Alex usually liked those. When he approached the table, he saw that conspicuous bag of chips lying in front of her. It’d become almost a symbol between them. A symbol of disappointment and he hated that it had become that. He really shouldn’t have told her why he kept a stack of them in their quarters. But he knew that right now this couldn’t be a sign for him. She wasn’t due for another week.

“Hey,” he greeted them, when neither Alex nor Jonas looked up at his approach. The page in front of them was full with symbols Evan had never seen before and sprawled out in front of them were pictures of those symbols, etched into grey stone.

Both Alex and Jonas flinched at the greeting.

“What are you working on?”

Clearing his throat, Jonas started gathering up the pictures. “Major Taldy’s team found these steles on the Mainland. The writing is not Ancient, so we were wondering-“

“Where is that structure?” Evan asked, sitting down at the head of the table and pulling one of the pictures close. It showed a circle of stones, wide and flat, the outsides of the stones decorated with these symbols. Were they writings? And if so, why wasn’t the writing in Ancient? “I always thought only the Ancients lived on this planet.”

“Told you, he’d be interested,” Alex grinned, her whole face lighting up as she looked at him. He didn’t know why exactly, but whenever he showed interest in her work, she was just beaming at him like he was the best thing that had ever happened to her. To this day, it still embarrassed him. And he had no idea why that was either. Shouldn’t he be more grateful? Or was it just that he was embarrassed about his interest? No, that couldn’t be right.As she pushed the notebook closer to him, he felt his cheeks grow hot. She’d drawn up a rudimentary map. “We’d like to go there,” she said, pointing at a spot on the southernmost edge of the biggest continent. This world had three of those and so far the Atlantis expedition hadn’t had the time to explore the entirety what they called the Mainland.

“You don’t have to sell it to me,” Evan said, picking up one of the three water bottles he’d brought and opening it. “I’m all for it. Talk to McKay and Weir.”

“Yes, we know that,” Alex said with a sly grin. “But maybe you’d like your team to come along? Oliver’s team could be going…” she trailed off suggestively, making Evan grin.

“Ah, you want a field trip?” The sparkle in her eye was enough to make him want to lean over, ignore Jonas sitting between them, and kiss her. “Sure,” he said instead. You make the arrangements; we’ll make a day out of it- or two or three weeks,” he added with a grin at the sight of her wide eyes and remembering digs on other worlds. “We’re not scheduled to head out for another three days. Maybe we can postpone that.”

“Sounds good,” Jonas said, assembling his pictures. He must be the only member of the expedition who refused to use the tablets on a regular basis, but then again, Alex had switched to manual note taking as well. Their quarters were already full with notebooks waiting to be filled, or open notebooks sprawled out on every available surface. “See you tomorrow, then.”

“See you,” Alex said, switching to Jonas’ chair and taking Evan’s hand in both of hers as soon as Jonas was out of earshot, but Evan looked after him, knowing full well that pity was the last thing Jonas wanted from either of them.

“Do you really think he’s going to participate in any of the activities tomorrow?” Evan whispered in a hushed voice. Because until now, Jonas Quinn hadn’t joined in any of the activities other members of the expedition engaged on, on the mandatory rest day.

“I could ask Rodney to switch places with him and let Jonas go fishing with Beckett instead.”

“Hm… maybe,” Evan said quietly as Jonas stepped into the transporter and vanished from sight. He turned to face Alex again. The smile was still there on her face, but it didn’t quite reach her wonderfully blue eyes. “So… June fifth….” They hadn’t seen each other all day. She’d returned to base only that morning, when he’d already been on duty, organizing shifts and going through their supplies. A flicker of pain rushed over her face as she closed her eyes and raised his hands to her lips. Her warm breath streaked past his knuckles.

She didn’t need to say it. And neither did he. He moved his other hand up and down her arm, never dropping his gaze. Her skin was warmer than it had been that day, there was more colour in her cheeks, and yet…

“Four years ago today.” He said it anyway. A statement which was like a ritual. Counting the days, counting the weeks, counting the years. It would never truly pass. Countless sessions of therapy and one thousand four hundred and sixty had taught them that. They’d become parents that day.

She smiled at him then and, ignoring the other people in the cafeteria, pulled him closer until their lips touched. Just barely. Just a soft kiss, skin upon skin, full of sadness and comfort. When she pulled back, he reached up to brush his thumb over her cheek to wipe away a tear that wouldn’t fall.

“Are you okay?” she asked and he nodded. He still wasn’t at peace with it, but that was okay as well.

“You?”

“No. But I will be.”

Another ritual. He wouldn’t have expected anything else. And she was honest with him. More honest than she had been in the weeks following Nora’s death. They were making progress and that was something, wasn’t it?

And what else was there to be said? Hadn’t it all been put into words a thousand times over?

“Hungry?”

“Starving,” she said, concluding the brief moment, because they’d learned that too. That dwelling wouldn’t amount to anything. She’d dreamed of Nora the previous night and that was bad enough. Just a vague dream, but she’d woken him up to tell him. That was progress.

He pushed the tray towards her and she ripped open the packaging of the sandwiches rather unceremoniously.

“I really don’t envy the people who have to take all out trash off the Daedalus,” she said, and, determinedly clearing her throat, took one of the tuna sandwiches, opened it up and put a couple of chips on it. If that was her version of Fish and Chips, then so be it.

“Why’s that? Several weeks worth of trash, transported through two galaxies? That smell must be incredible.”

“Incredibly ripe, you mean.”

“Perhaps,” he laughed, taking one of her chips and regretting it as soon as the vinegar made his tongue squirm in protest. But he didn’t complain. Instead, he watched her wolf down the rest of her sandwich and then reach for the egg and mayo one.

“Has Jonas joined a team yet?” Evan asked, grabbing the other half of the tuna sandwich before Alex could lay her hands on it.

“Don’t think so,” she said after swallowing her first bite.

“I was thinking… because Anna wants to quit my team and stay on base instead,” Evan said frowning. He had no idea what that was about, but Alex quickly dropping her gaze made him wonder if maybe she knew. “Do you think he’d want to join one?”

“Sure. Ask him. So, Anna won’t be coming on the next mission then?”

“No.” Evan leaned back in his chair and watched his wife as she finished her sandwich and took a sip of water. The American flag on her arm had been something he had to get used to, but by now it was as familiar as the sight of the glasses. Those had been strange to look at at first as well.

“What?”

“She’s pregnant, isn’t she?” It wasn’t a question, and for a split second he wondered if he should be offended that Anna hadn’t told him. He was the leader of her team after all, but then again, she didn’t need to explain herself to him.

Alex’s nod was like a knife straight to his chest despite his determination to stay professional about this. Swallowing hard, he threw his sandwich on the tray. How he hated this, not being able to be happy for somebody else… but he and Alex had been trying for almost a year now, without any success. So this really shouldn’t be happening to anybody else. And why did he have to feel that way? Why did he have to think that way?

Because it just wasn’t fair.

And he couldn’t help himself.

Murdoch must know about it, or he wouldn’t want to rush the engagement the way he did right now. That must be it… and judging by the way he felt right now, the way his stomach lurched and he barely kept himself from wishing his friends ill, Murdoch and Anna were probably right to have kept this from him.

“She just told me today when I got back to the lab. She didn’t really want to get out with it here.” She paused, before continuing, as though that might apply to her one day, “Doctor Weir said her staying here wouldn’t be a problem either.” And maybe it would apply to her. Maybe. They just had to stop hoping.

Evan barely held back a grunt. Anna and Murdoch didn’t deserve his jealousy. Closing his eyes, he shook his head. “Let’s not dwell on that, okay?” Because it was no use. There was just no point. Hadn’t they decided not to worry about it? That their lives were full enough, even without a child?

Sighing he looked at the half-eaten sandwich on his tray. “Come on, I want to show you something,” he said, suddenly determined to get her mind off this.

“What?” Relief flooded her face at the mere suggestion of a distraction, and she followed him to the railing where he’d stood before. From where they were standing they had a good view of the card game below. Of the technicians, scientists, the few medical staff and the few Marines sitting around the table, playing that incredibly fast card game.

“You want to learn how to play?” he heard her ask, but he just grinned and leaned against the railing, doing his best to forget what he’d just heard. At least for a while.

“No,” he laughed as she leaned next to him and took his hand. “I was just wondering about the colour scheme here.”

“The what?” Her smile drove the bitterness clear from his mind. How had she always had that effect on him? Losing himself in her presence was always easy. It’d been his downfall.

“Okay. You know Hogwarts, right?”

Her groan made him laugh again and he put his arm around her. “Yes, I remember that place. Weren’t you kicked off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team?”

“Ha! Me? A Ravenclaw? No way. That’s you.”

She didn’t protest and as he looked down at her, at her small pointy nose and the way her smile made dimples appear in her cheeks, he just knew that he’d done everything right in marrying this woman. He gently drew out one of the grey hairs from her blonde hair and kissed her forehead.

“Okay, what did you want to show me?” She bumped into his side.

“I just… look, the colours match. The medics are always loyal and helpful.. so, yellow patches for Hufflepuff,” he started to explain and those few words were enough to make her chuckle. “Then there’s blue patches for the scientists. The bookworms and clever ones. So, Ravenclaw.”

“Are you saying all the technicians are Slytherins?” she asked, he voice lowered to a whisper, leaning into him and looking up at him. “They’re not all evil.”

“I’m not saying all Slytherins are evil. I still have high hopes for Snape.”

“Oh shush!” Alex’s laugh was enough reward. He loved this. These moments of just talking about nonsense. And he loved reading with her. He almost dreaded getting the seventh book in a few weeks,

“So the administrational staff, the red patches-“

“Gryffindors, obviously. They have to deal with politicians more than anybody else. If that doesn’t require bravery, I don’t know what does.”

“Where does that leave you, though?” she asked turning her head to look at the black patches on the chest of his jacket. “Death Eater?”

“Nah,” Evan laughed, pulling her closer again to kiss her temple and the little wrinkles appearing in the corner of her eye. “We get to choose our houses.”

“No,” she said, taking his hand and looking up at him with a vicious grin. “The Sorting Head just wouldn’t fit on your enormous military heads.”

 

Commission for @sourlander

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 36

2007

It was hectic. As though they didn’t have time. As though the faster they did it, the easier it would be to forget. As though they could overtake Oliver and Anna. As thought being with each other would wipe away the memories of the day. She wasn’t even sure if it was good, because when they were done, she felt almost empty and angry. And then Alex saw the same in Evan’s eyes and she could have laughed if it hadn’t been for the one single tear running down his temple and losing itself in the dark brown hair.

             And that was probably the hardest thing about this. That there wasn’t anything they could do to make this any easier. This shouldn’t be as hard as it was. And they shouldn’t be as desperate as they were. And still she said: “Evan, I’m so sorry.” Because the fact that she wasn’t pregnant yet wasn’t the only reason this felt all wrong. Because most of all, they had lost members of their expedition today, first and foremost, they’d lost Carson Beckett.

             He shook his head and turned to lie on his back. Now he was the one who couldn’t look at her. And that never happened. “I should have gone fishing with him when he asked me,” he whispered.

             “Don’t,” she said propping herself up on her elbow and leaning over him, her hand on his chest. His heart was racing. She could feel it even now. His eyes were closed, the long lashes twitching as he tried to fight the tears.

             His breath came out in a hiss, as though he were in pain. As though just thinking about the day was too much. “I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

             Alex moved her hand up and down his side. It wouldn’t help, but at least she could let him know that she was there. “I could have told him to ask Jonas instead,” she said. “But I didn’t.” She pressed her lips together and remained where she was, looking down at him as his breathing slowly lost the edge. As his heartbeat slowed down to match hers. She wouldn’t think about whether sleeping with him had been a mistake, or whether she should have insisted on talking things over first, because he’d been desperate. And so had she. She needed him, even if, maybe, this wasn’t entirely right. “Evan…”

             She watched as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed and slowly opened his eyes to look at her. “I know you’re right,” he said quietly and shaking his head at the same time. He reached up, his fingertips tracing her jaw and slowly moving down her neck.

             “Are you going as well?” she asked. The caskets would be returned to Earth the day after tomorrow, only two days after the disaster. The next of kin didn’t even know what had happened yet.

Five people had died. Two physicists, a botanist, one recent transfer from the Apollo, one Marine and Beckett, the latter two in the process of saving the life of another scientist.

It was one of these things that shouldn’t happen. One of the things that would never have happened under normal circumstances. Two physicists had turned on an Ancient device and that device had turned their bodies into ticking time bombs. Literally. In moments like these Alex almost wished she were back doing regular work back on Earth. Just doing research in a library, teaching the odd class here and there and going on a dig every other year. The threat of constant death of colleagues or even oneself was definitely lower there. But she’d signed up for this and she just knew that there was very little in both galaxies that could make her be happy in her old job again.

             Evan nodded.

             Colleagues. That’s what these people had been, but it as just wrong to think of them just as their jobs.

Hewston.

Conejero.

Akey.

Shuldiner.

Beckett.

And though Alex knew that they’d all be sorely missed, she couldn’t help but think of Beckett most of all. This couldn’t be over. Somehow, she’d always thought that Beckett would be there if they ever had another child. It was a strange, selfish thought, but despite everything she’d grown to trust Beckett like no other Doctor and he had become a friend these past two years. Beckett giving them information before the Air Force thought it right for them to know had been a sign of that. He trusted them and they’d trusted him.

             “Rodney, Sheppard, Weir and I are going to tell the families,” he said, clearing his throat. He blinked again, staring up at the ceiling. “And I suppose we’ll be attending Beckett’s funeral, and that of whichever family wants us there. I hear Ronon’s coming too.” It’d become easier with the rudimentary Gate Bridge, but going back home to attend funerals and then returning back to Atlantis wasn’t its only purpose. Or rather, it shouldn’t be. They needed to take better care of their people.

             “I want to be there,” she said and in answer, he wrapped his arm around her torso and nodded.

“That can be arranged, I guess.” Just a few days back on Earth wouldn’t be so hard to get.

 

The flowers had grown like weeds. Like a pillow they were spread around the head stone, bright white petals surrounding a pistils the colour of egg yolk. They were standing so close together that any botanist would have known immediately that they weren’t daisies and she wondered when somebody else might wonder at their unnatural thick growth.

             Alex was kneeling in front of the head stone and she couldn’t help but wonder why the pain she’d felt kneeling here the last time had faded. It was still there, but in light of recent events, it just wasn’t as bad. And there was another bouquet of flowers. Not daisies, but lilies.

             “Was that General O’Neill driving away just now?” she heard Ronon ask several feet behind her. They were all on their way back to the SGC and Evan had diverted from their route back to Cheyenne Mountain. The fact that Sheppard didn’t ask why or where to, told her that he knew where Evan wanted to go. McKay and Zelenka would already be waiting for them when they got back, but it didn’t really matter right now. They still had a few hours to spare before the dial-out and the trip back via Jumper.

             “Looked like him,” Sheppard responded as Evan knelt down next to Alex and picked three of the daisies. She didn’t even feel too uncomfortable to have these three see the grave. Was she owning up to it? Maybe. Maybe she was just done hiding this, when these people probably already knew anyway.

             “I guess it was,” Evan said quietly, producing a handkerchief from his pocket and placing the flower inside.

             “I thought it must be him or Daniel leaving flowers. But I guess Daniel would have mentioned something.” Daniel had been back for a few months now. The Ori were defeated, their armies vanquished. One sign of hope in this turmoil which the universe was. Alex weaved her fingers through Evan’s as she looked at the headstone. Silver star on dark grey. Nine letters.

He brushed his thumb over the star and laughed softly. “Ironic, huh?”

She kissed his hand and stood up. “I guess so,” she sighed and wrapped her cardigan closer around herself. She felt cold, despite the summer heat. When she turned around, she saw Weir, Sheppard and McKay decidedly not looking at them, and leaning against the car.

Behind her, she heard the rustling of clothes as Evan stood up. “Let’s go.”

Alex pulled his hand closer. She needed it, and by the way his hand fingers tightened around hers, she knew that he needed her too.

Sheppard took off his sunglasses and nodded at them. “I can drive.” It was an offer, not an order. Sheppard had never been the type to openly say when something made him uncomfortable, but at least he didn’t attempt at joking.

“No, it’s fine, Sir.”

Alex caught Weir’s eye and found the other woman looking at her with a sort of sadness, which was more than just a little bit disconcerting. She just wondered what thoughts the sight of Alex and Evan at the grave of their daughter had brought up within her. But there was… something. Maybe regret?

Ronon reached out to Evan and clapped him on his back without a word. That gesture Alex understood.

 

“They’re gone?!” Evan asked as he rushed towards her. He was still wearing the flight suit, and the pilots streaming into the mess hall behind him, made their way towards the window from where the archaeologists were watching the satellite.

             “They made the jump about two minutes ago,” Jonas said.

             “I think the central tower was grazed,” Murdoch added, coming up behind Evan. He’d been one of the five pilots in his squadron.

             “We’ll see about that. As long as they made the jump-” Evan breathed, brushing his hand through his hair, his eyes fixed on Alex. “I’ll go see if Colonel Ellis needs my help.”

             “Not done flying, flyboy?” Anna joked, though the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. They’d all been on the mainland, taking more pictures of the steles and starting to determine how long an excavation might take, when they were beamed up to the Apollo without so much as a warning. All their equipment was still there, but there was no chance Ellis would let them collect their things. The Replicator satellite was still in orbit, the Gate still active and the energy beam, though still rushing over the surface of the planet, would sooner or later turn in their direction.

             Evan ignored Anna’s comment. His brows were furrowed, his shoulders so tense, Alex saw immediately that he wasn’t in the mood for jokes. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said, turned away and hurried to get out of the room. He could have seen the results for himself on the bridge, but he needed to know, he just needed to see for himself that Alex was safe and sound. But he still felt like she was more vulnerable on one of these ships. But of course Alex was safe. They all were.

The Replicator satellite had shown up out of nowhere and the only way for the Atlantis expedition to survive had been to take the city to another planet. That weapon had been after Atlantis, first and foremost, and Alex was a lot safer here than she was on Atlantis, especially if what Murdoch had seen was true. If the city had been hit, then that was bad. Very bad. People would be injured. Even more people might be dead.

             The ride up to the bridge didn’t take longer than a few seconds, but that brief interlude allowed him to take a long, calming breath. He’d only just gotten out of the F-302 and he should have reported to the Colonel straight away, but he doubted the little detour would get him into any trouble.

             Just as he stepped onto the bridge, he saw the blueish hue fill the viewport ahead and the ship jumped into hyperspace. “Sir?” He was a little bit out of breath as he looked around. Everybody was at their workstations, looking as calm as ever. As though all of this was just one of these days. And to them it probably was. They were battle-hardened. Many of Ellis’ crew and Ellis himself had fought against the Ori. But the Ori were defeated. The Ori were gone. And so the Apollo had been sent to Pegasus.

             “Lorne,” Ellis stood up, checked the ship’s log on the tablet and turned to face him. As second-in-command of Atlantis, Evan should have expected to be addressed by his rank, not his name. Ellis was just trying too hard, but all Evan could do was return Ellis’ look with a curt nod.

             “Colonel, Major Murdoch reported he spotted the city being hit.”

             “We couldn’t pick up any of that,” Ellis returned, stepping towards him and dismissing what one of the men under Evan’s command had seen, because he seemed to trust the ship’s sensors more. “We’ll check up on them at the rendezvous point.”

             “Sir-“

             “That’s it for now, Major.”

             Over Ellis’ shoulder, Evan caught Marks’ eye and saw the miniscule shake of his head. Apparently Ellis didn’t much like hearing objections. Evan barely suppressed a sigh. He really wasn’t used to this anymore. “Yes, Sir.”

 

Eventually the city landed on its new planet.

             Eventually the city’s most vital systems were repaired.

             Eventually things would get back to normal.

             Whatever normal meant.

             Evan was waiting for her on the balcony where they’d met up after their arrival. After the siege. Without speaking a word, she leaned against him. She still wasn’t sure she could believe it. How could this have happened?

             She was grateful when he put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her even closer. The city stretched out beneath them, safe and sound and making another world its home. Steel and glass twinkling in this new sun.

“No good news?”

Alex shook her head. “No news.” She was late, but as usual, the test had come up without the hoped-for result.

For a while they didn’t speak, just looked out onto the ocean, past the magnificent buildings, at the strange birds circling the highest towers in search of a place to land. They must be close to the new Mainland. If that’s what they’d call it again. Probably. Another planet with other opportunities. Another planet, which neither Carson Beckett, nor Elizabeth Weir would ever see.

It hurt thinking about it. How, in such a quick succession, they could have lost two vital members of their expedition. And the look on Weir’s face on the graveyard was still haunting her. That look of regret. Of doubt… and at the same time Alex remembered Weir’s enthusiasm at being back on Atlantis. Of resuming her post. First she’d won, then she’d lost everything. That grazing of the tower, the one which Oliver had seen, and which Ellis hadn’t, had killed her. Not instantly, but it had wiped Elizabeth Weir from existence.

“I met Johnson on the way here,” she said and she could see that Evan was thinking hard, trying to remember who she was talking about, but then he nodded, “She said the Gate was successfully recalibrated.”

“Right.” Another stretch of silence. Then he reached into his pocket. A white handkerchief, three wilted, white flowers wrapped inside it. “I don’t really believe in fate,” he said with the barest trace of a smile on his lips. Three flowers. One for Nora, one for Beckett, one for Weir. There were so many other people who had died these past few years, but right now there was only time to think of those three.

Alex picked the flowers up by their dry stems and Evan’s hand closed around hers. They held them for a moment, looking at the petals, which were still bright white, as they almost intertwined, before they let them go. At first they were caught in a soft updraft, but lost to view within seconds as they vanished in the vastness of the city.

Chapter Text

Chapter 37

2007

“There we go,” Alex said, her brush gently stroking over the rough stone they’d uncovered. She was kneeling in the dust, her face grey with it, but, like always, she didn’t care. She’d looked up briefly when he landed the Jumper, but that was about it. She was so deep in thought, so intensely enveloped in her work, that his arrival didn’t really matter. Granted, he’d only been gone for two hours to fetch supplies, but still.

             Jonas and Fisherman were at the other end of the dig site, looking at the rudimentary map of the layout.

             Anna, her growing belly clearly visible now, was kneeling next to Alex and she was the only one who didn’t look comfortable. The temperatures in this area of P4E-3N2 weren’t too bad, but the air was dry and it couldn’t be the best of experiences to be on a dig site in direct sunlight in her state. She wiped her forehead and picked up the camera to document what they’d found.

             Major Escher’s team had come across this structure, and had they come across it from the ground, they might never have realized that it was something worth checking out. Luckily de Clare had just recently become a member of Escher’s team and, thanks to his experience with Alex and her team, had found it important to report the overgrown square immediately.  

             Evan had immediately set out here with Murdoch’s team, Jonas and Anna accompanying them to assess the situation. Murdoch himself was incapacitated thanks to a broken foot after tripping and falling back on his short honeymoon with Anna. One week on Earth and an injury. What a trip that must have been.

So far, they hadn’t found much of anything, just a kind of market place without any buildings surrounding it. It was just a square of overgrown cobblestones, or that’s what it looked like when approached from orbit via Puddle Jumper. And that alone was curious enough. Civilizations on planets with orbital Stargates were very unusual to say the least. Civilizations without a trace of habitation even more so.

So, Evan understood why both Alex and Anna insisted on coming here, this was their turf after all. What he didn’t understand was the timing of it. This could have waited another few months to say the least, and Anna was four months pregnant, so this kind of work couldn’t be too easy on her. But she’d insisted, Doctor Keller had given Anna clearance to go, so what did he know? Next to nothing, probably. And Alex had worked every day on Larsa, sometimes hard work from morning until dusk, and she’d been okay.

“It’s that same writing again,” Anna said, picking up a brush of her own and clearing away the dust with decided and yet delicate strokes.

“Do you know what they’re talking about?” Woeste asked behind him. He and Evan were still standing on the ramp of the Jumper, not ten feet away from Anna and Alex, but the two women were too busy looking at whatever it was they’d unearthed.

Evan just shrugged. “No idea,” he said, unable to hide his grin at Alex. When she was this concentrated there was little that could distract her. He’d seen her at her desk multiple times when she was working on a paper or a report, he’d heard her frantic typing so often, he could have made out the sound anywhere, and he was sure he’d remember it, and the smell of the strong coffee she liked to drink while writing. He couldn’t help staring at her, as she decidedly and gently at the same time brushed along the edges of the stone tile and then leaned back with a satisfied smile.

Woeste just scoffed and returned to the inside of the Jumper to sort the supplies they’d brought.

“It looks familiar.” Anna tapped her chin, staring down at the tile as Evan walked towards them and only then did Alex raise her head to look up at him. Her smile was enough to make his heart start to race wildly in his chest. This woman would be the death of him.

“Hey,” she said, reaching up to touch the back of his leg casually before he knelt down next to them.

“What did you find?” Evan asked. Alex’s hand was still on his knee, leaving light grey smudges on the black fabric.

“Nox.” One word that was supposed to mean something to him, apparently.

“Lumos?” he suggested. Alex’s laugh made his heart skip another beat. How did she do that with so little effort?

“No.“ Alex bumped into his shoulder, making him almost lose balance and land on his backside. “The Nox. They were part of the Alliance of Four Great Races in our galaxy. This is their alphabet.”

“I believe you.”

“Yes, alright, but the Nox are native to P3X-774,” Anna sat down cross-legged. “There was never a mention of them being anywhere in the Pegasus Galaxy.”

Alex shrugged. “We won’t know until we decipher this.”

“Who were they again?” Evan asked, feeling Alex’s attention slipping away from him, as she dug through her backpack to take out her notebook.

“SG-1 met them on one of their first few missions in search for technology which could give Earth an advantage over the Goa’uld,” Jonas said behind them and Evan turned around. He hadn’t even heard him approach. And of course Jonas would remember that mission report. He usually remembered everything he read. And Evan had to admit, the new input he received on Atlantis, was doing the Kelownan some good. He didn’t look as sullen anymore, though he still didn’t smile as much as he used to. “They’re a humanoid race with considerable healing powers and-“

“Ah!” Evan exclaimed, clapping his hands together and remembering reading about the Nox. “Peaceful people, always insisting on not using violence? Yes, I remember!”

Jonas nodded and started brushing over one of the tiles next to the one which Anna and Alex had worked on. He was using his hand, not a brush, ripping away the plant which had buried itself into the stone. If this didn’t destroy any writing that might still be on the tile, Evan didn’t know what would “Is there writing on all of these tiles?”

             “We’ll see, I guess,” Anna said. “What does it say, though, can you read it?”

             Alex shook her head. “No. I just recognize the symbols. I’d have to get back to Atlantis to try and make out what they say… or send it to Daniel.” She grinned crookedly. “I bet this’d get him here in five minutes straight.”

             Jonas scoffed and sat up. “You bet.” Wiping his brow, he took the brush from Alex and started cleaning the new tile. “Lieutenant Fisherman added a couple of details on the map, Major,” he said without looking up.

             Evan nodded and got to his feet. “Alright,” he said and, then, turning to the Jumper said, a bit louder, “Do you need help with those boxes, Woeste?”

             “No, I’m good!” came Woeste’s voice from inside the Jumper and Evan was almost sure the newly appointed Captain was taking a nap. With Nabi sick back on Atlantis, their team had shrunk just as much as Murdoch’s had, and Woeste wasn’t too fond of digging up things. And, for once, they had plenty of time on a planet. They didn’t need to be back on Atlantis for another couple of days at least.

 

There was still dust clinging to the ridges of the letters, filling them up and making the letters more prominent. Alex picked one of the smaller brushes from her kit and carefully tried removing the dirt, but it wouldn’t budge. The structure of the stone had been damaged by the aggressive weeds which had spread over the square, but the writing was still legible. “Be careful with those,” Alex said quietly, as Jonas ripped at the plant with more force than necessary.

             “There has to be an easier way to get rid of them,” Jonas muttered, leaning back.

             “Maybe we could consult one of the botanists,” Anna suggested as Evan started for the table at which Rick was bent low over the map.

             Alex forced her eyes down to the task at hand. The last layer filling the ridges wouldn’t budge. Picking up another metal instrument, long and with a thin metal hook at the end, she carefully tried scratching at it. The dirt came of at least. She used the blunt side of the instrument and it worked well enough. She bit her lip when she unearthed the shiny material underneath.

“What? And get some herbicide?”

Anna chuckled. “Maybe.”

Silvery metal.  Just half a millimetre below the edges of the ridges. Alex’s heart did a little somersault. Now, that was something they could work with, and also something they needed to get back to the lab for analysis. They couldn’t get a sample like this to carbon dating, but just figuring out what kind of metal this was, might already prove useful.

Alex looked up and found her eyes drawn to Evan, while Anna and Jonas, who was busy cleaning the other tile, kept talking. Evan had put his P-90 down on the table and was leaning on the table, his finger tracing something on the map. He wasn’t looking at her anymore as he was talking to Rick in a low voice. About five minutes after Evan had left to fetch supplies with Woeste, Fisherman had discovered a couple of steles a couple of hundred feet into the forest. Steles, which looked a lot like those they’d found on Lantea just before the expedition had been forced to leave the planet.

He nodded at something Rick was saying, removed his tactical vest, then his jacket and slung the vest back over his shoulders. He was wearing the black standard issue t-shirt, the muscles on his arms somehow more prominent now and seeing him there, talking to Rick without paying attention to anything but the plans at hand, made her mouth feel far too dry.

The conversation next to her had stopped and she felt the eyes of Jonas and Anna on her. Quickly she looked down again, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. She didn’t like getting caught staring at her husband like a besotted teenager. It wasn’t exactly her idea of professionalism. And they were on the verge of a discovery here. Something potentially important. Carter would most certainly send along more people to help with the excavation now, especially since there hadn’t been a record of a place like this in the database. That’s what she should be thinking about, not what it would feel like to have Evan’s strong arms wrapped tightly about her.

“Found something good?” The amusement in Anna’s voice made Alex’s cheeks burn even more.

             She cleared her throat and shrugged. “Maybe. I guess?” Picking up a thin glass tube, she started scratching at the edges of the metal to get a sample, but the thin and sharp point of the instrument didn’t appear to have an impact on the metal. It might still be a bit dirty, but it was unaffected by the metal instrument. Frowning, she sat up again. Well, maybe she shouldn’t be surprised. Whatever that filling was, it had survived several hundred years of lying in direct sunlight, in rain and frost, of being covered up by leaves. The elements had had little impact on it, so why should she be surprised that a bit of steel didn’t either.

             She wiped sweat off her brow and moved her head to get rid of the insistent aching in her neck. She really should start getting more exercise. Apparently volleyball and running and working out on the weights every now and then didn’t do the trick anymore. “I’ll be back in a few,” she said, packing up her instruments again. The other two would be fine with Anna’s kit for a while. But there was no answer from them as Anna started scribbling into her notebook and Jonas packed out his own to compare the alphabets he’s stored on his tablet with the ones on the tile.

             “How big is this place?” Evan was just asking, eyes still on the map. They might have gotten a better picture from above with the help of the Jumper’s sensors, but the map was still more useful to them at this stage.

             “About the size of a soccer field,” Rick said, looking up and grinning sheepishly when he saw Alex. “May I say soccer now?”

             “Since you’re talking to a born American, I’d say yes. He’d just get confused if you used the right term.”

             “Ha!” Evan exclaimed and pointed at the rough spot on the map which represented the place where Anna and Jonas were still at work. “Why did you start here?”

             “We thought the centre and the corners might be most interesting… you know, same as in football.”

             “Since when- never mind.” Evan waved it off when he realized he’d stumbled on an inside joke. “So, pretty big,” he concluded with a sigh. “And non-Ancient writing in the centre. What does that tell us?” He wasn’t looking at Rick now, but at Alex. He’d have to make the call back to Atlantis to let Carter know what they’d found, what they were working on right now and to let her know that they’d have to stay for a couple of more days at least to assess the situation.

             “It tells us that we need more time. First to make a record of what we can find here, then some time in the lab to evaluate what we found and what we hope to find. I can’t make any predictions right now.”

             Evan nodded and looked back down at the map. It wasn’t much. Just a rough sketch of a rectangle, some markings around it. He tapped his nose and nodded. “Let’s take a look at that stele? Maybe I can tell Colonel Carter something about that. Or better, you go back with me and tell her yourself?”

             “Maybe,” Alex agreed. “Let’s take a look first, though. We’re not expected back right away, are we?”

 

“Everyone knows why we snuck away, don’t they?”

             Evan nodded, his eyes almost drooping as he snuggled up against her, his head on her chest. “I’m almost sure they do,” he whispered, his hand buried into her shirt. His legs were still entwined with hers. If there was an attack right now, they’d not only be caught out, but they’d also have no chance of getting up to defend themselves quickly enough to ward it off.  But somehow that didn’t seem to matter.

             “We’re still behaving like the stupid kids we were,” she grinned, brushing the hair from his forehead and remembering those first few weeks in Trier. And they hadn’t really changed. Maybe it was because they’d spend such a long time apart, or maybe it was due to all the things that had forced them closer together, but she doubted she’d ever be able to keep her hands off him.

             “We were in our mid-twenties.” Evan’s arm tightened around her torso and he looked up at her.

             “You’re sure?”

             “I’m about as crazy about you as I was then,” he smiled, pulling himself up, his elbows on either side of her. He slowly moved his face closer to hers, his right leg between hers, until their noses were almost touching. “Might be madness, but I don’t care.”

             She laughed softly, his proximity, the touch of his nose and the scent of him almost enough to overwhelm her again. “I love you, too,” she grinned, moving her hand up his belly, under his black shirt.

             His smile was answer enough, as he looked down on her. The sun was still warm and it’s light so bright, it made his blue eyes look almost grey, like falling water. And she’d be willing to let herself fall again, to make love to him over and over again, but they’d be expected to report back in a couple of minutes.

             “It might happen today,” she said, her voice so low she was almost sure he couldn’t hear her. But he did, and his smile made her heart miss a beat. They’d been trying to conceive for almost  a year now. A year, and still nothing.

             “Says who?”

             “Says my chart, my calendar and the stick I peed on this morning.”

             He nodded. “Okay.” They’d find out soon enough. He cleared his throat and shifted a bit closer. He didn’t kiss her, just knelt over her, his hands on her cheeks and his eyes were so earnest, so determined, she felt her breath catching in her chest. A few days ago, they’d heard that, apparently, Teyla was pregnant. But, unlike with Anna, this hadn’t resulted in feeling even more pressured. This time they’d just heard the news and accepted the sting that came with it.

             And even if they didn’t conceive today, or the day after, or next month, they’d be okay. If, after a year of trying, they still weren’t sick of each other, then they’d be alright.

Chapter Text

Chapter 38

2007

The woman on the bed was fast asleep, the skin of her forehead clammy. Just like everybody else they’d found. At least she wasn’t dead. That was something. How many had died? Had anybody died?

             He couldn’t remember.

             There was little he could remember.

             Lorne motioned for the men behind him to stay where they were. If they couldn’t wake her and escort her to where the other sick people were confined, then they’d have to carry her. But he figured for waking a sleeping person, he wouldn’t be needing the Marines. He reached out to feel her pulse. Rapid like those of the others had been. Just like his own was, but he was more alert than the others.

His men were more alert.

He reached for the little plastic bottle and swallowed another pill without thinking about it once. No water to help the pill slip down his throat. It might not be healthy, but he just couldn’t risk getting more drowsy than he already was. He felt like he was walking through a tunnel, like, if he swerved only slightly to the left or to the right, he’d slam into a wall of pain and sleep. He just couldn’t afford that to happen.

             His hand slid to the chain around his neck. To the dog tags under his shirt. That’s what he was. A soldier. But there was something else… something-

He couldn’t remember.

Something vital. What was it again? He took out the chain, stared down at the rectangular objects. Two metal tags. His name. And something else. Something gold clinking softly against the tags… a ring? He swallowed hard. Why? Had he married? But she’d left him. A chill ran down his spine when he realized that he couldn’t remember her name.

It was just gone.

             She turned and her eyelids fluttered. Bright blue. Small nose. Her lips parted to say something, but her voice died on the first vowel as her mind seemed to race.

             “You can’t be here,” he said. Her eyes were feverish, just as his own must be. She was sick. Everyone was. Him included. Lorne grabbed her shoulders and shook her, sudden panic rising up in him when her eyes started to droop. Why now? Why as he was looking down at her like this? Her blonde hair fell into her face and she clutched his arm. She was terrified. Terrified at seeing him. “Come on, you gotta get up, Ma’am.”

             “Alex,” she breathed, as though she wasn’t quite sure what she was saying.

             “What?” A name?

             “Do I know you?”

             Lorne shook his head.

He couldn’t remember.

All he knew was that this sickness had to be contained. That she couldn’t be here, and that the horror he felt at looking into her bloodshot eyes wouldn’t help him in getting that done.

             “You look like that boy.”

             Lorne swallowed hard. She was delirious. Why the hell weren’t there any doctors around?

             He got her into a sitting position somehow, slung her arm around his shoulders and helped her stand up. She was light, and the heat radiating from her almost scary. She wrapped her other arm around him. He grabbed her hand, held her upright and he saw the soft glint of gold. A wedding ring?

             “Sir, do you need help?”

             Lorne shook his head and lifted her up into his arms as her knees gave way. “Let’s get her to the others,” he said. He hadn’t carried any of the others. Not like this. But this felt right. Just with her, though.

 

“I’m sorry, we can’t spare the manpower at the moment.” Carter appeared to be in earnest, but Evan could see that Alex wasn’t wholly satisfied with the answer. They were in orbit, just him and Alex, giving a short report on their findings to the Colonel. The continent beneath them looked like any other. Green and brown, surrounded by endless blue.

             “Colonel,” Alex began, leaning forward, her eyes fixed intently on the inside screen of the Jumper. “This could be important. Except for Ancient we haven’t come across any other alphabet from the Milky Way in this galaxy. We can’t just leave it at that.”

             “I agree, and we won’t,” Carter said, the slicker of a smile appearing on her face. Alex, right now, was bound to remind her of Jackson. “Bring as many samples back as you can. It’s certainly worth following up, and you’ll be able to go back when-“

             “We’ve only been here for two days,” Alex interrupted her, “that’s not nearly enough. And with the Replicators gone we should spend more time following this up.”

             “Yes, but we need the personnel to find out as much as we can about the Athosians.”

             That made Alex fall silent effortlessly. Of course it did. And Evan felt his own throat grow tight. The Athosians had practically vanished into thin air three months ago. Halling. Kanaan. Woeste’s girlfriend.  All of them gone from the face of the galaxy. “Any news on that front?” he asked, because if there was, they’d need to abandon the site straight away, no questions asked.

             “No,” Carter answered gravely, her eyes narrowing. “We just need to keep looking.” Keep looking. What a prospect. Their last search had ended with a dead scientist, two scientists scarred for life and a Lieutenant, who’d been discharged into a mental hospital back on Earth. “Major Teldy’s team found Ba’al’s symbol on another world. We haven’t come across it for several months now, so I thought you’d be interested in that as well? The planet is closely affiliated with the Genii.” She raised an eyebrow and if the mention of Ba’al wasn’t enough to grab his attention, then the look she gave him certainly was. Carter must know about his record with Ba’al, about how Evan hadn’t hesitated to kill that clone, but she still practically offered this to him. On a silver platter, no questions asked. And she was aware of everything the Goa’uld had done to him. To them.

They hadn’t had confirmation of a Ba’al clone turning up in the Pegasus Galaxy, but it was almost certain that he was here. Why else would that symbol have appeared? But lack of solid confirmation still meant that the IOA hadn’t taken this whole situation too seriously. Until now.

             “What’s the planet called?” Alex asked, sounding casual, but the look in her eyes was icy cold. No, they weren’t done with Ba’al. Not by a longshot.

 

“Most of the clones are dead, though, right?” Sheppard asked, leaning back in his chair. “I mean, that’s the last I heard.”

             “As far as we can tell, yes,” Carter said. They were in the briefing room. Teldy, Sheppard, McKay, Ronon, Carter, Teyla, Evan and Alex, and they had been here for over an hour by now, discussing the pictures Teldy’s team had taken. Alex hadn’t complained again about leaving her research. Instead, the whole team had returned to Atlantis within the hour. And Carter was right, that research would still be there in a couple of days.  Moreover, Evan appreciated the fact that Carter included them both straight away, instead of making this whole thing a big secret. “But we doubt he was in earnest when he told us that he fitted all his clones with a transmitter. It’s hard to distinguish the clones from the original as it is, and who knows what else he’s planned.”

             “Enslave the people of this galaxy, pose as their mighty overlord and rule? Doesn’t that fit the Goa’uld profile?” McKay took a sip from his coffee mug and shrugged as though that was the most logical conclusion. And it probably was. The very fact, that Ba’al’s symbol started popping up, that his servants had captured their scientists, put them to work to find out about naquadah deposits in the Pegasus Galaxy, proved that. And still…

             “I don’t get why he’d want to come here? He didn’t even manage to conquer the Milky Way, why give another galaxy a try? He can’t have limitless resources.”  Sheppard didn’t seem to enthusiastic about the prospect of having to hunt down yet another enemy. And he wasn’t wrong. With the Replicators gone, they still had to deal with the Wraith Worshippers, with the Wrait-human hybrid called Michael, with Wraith themselves, and who could tell when the Genii would betray them next. Adding another name to that list wasn’t too encouraging, especially with their limited resources. But there was just no denying that Ba’al’s symbol appearing here couldn’t be a coincident and they couldn’t just close their eyes and pretend it hadn’t.

             “He doesn’t need limitless resources,” Carter said, folding her hands on the table and looking at him. “The Wraith have kept this galaxy in a state where most civilizations didn’t dare advance too far technologically, or they’d be wiped out. Ba’al coming here and impressing people with just a little bit of advancement, a couple of tricks even, maybe, might just about do the trick.”

             “Hm,” McKay said, “well, the Goa’uld do have a couple of interesting gadgets, but still.”

             “The Goa’uld have always tried to gain as much territory as possible,” Alex said, “and Ba’al’s been the sneakiest of them all.” She was twirling her pen between her fingers and determinedly not looking at the notebook in front of her, not at the words she’d jotted down before the meeting had started. Evan couldn’t make out what they were. She was looking at Sheppard. The tablet lay almost forgotten to the side. Evan couldn’t stop looking at her, feeling her terror at the news as though it were his own. And in a way it was. Her being held captive by Ba’al had been bad enough, but knowing there was still some part of him out there, alive, plotting, killing, was worse. There was just no way to grab a hold of him. To end this.

             “Well, we can’t allow him to make a run for domination of this galaxy.” Carter said.

             “He’s certainly giving it a good enough try,” Teyla said through gritted teeth. “Nivay is a prosperous farm world, closely linked to the Genii, and if he’s stretched out his hand to that world, he’s surely already established a foothold.”

             Teldy shook her head. “We only saw the symbol on a couple of houses there,” she said, “and about five people were wearing a bracelet similar to the one Major Lorne and Doctor Lorne discovered a few months ago, so it has spread considerably.”

             “Ba’al is here because of us,” Carter frowned and threw a look at her watch. “If he’s here. He might just be spreading the cult, or his power through proxies.”

             “We’re just going to add that to our list of things to do then,” McKay prompted, slapping his hand on the table. “Sounds good. Can we go now?”

             Alex dropped her pen, but nobody paid her any attention. She bit her lip and picked it up again.

             “Colonel Sheppard,” Carter said, ignoring McKay, “Would you brief the other teams on the situation? When they go off-world they have to keep a look-out for any signs of unusual activity.” A raise in alertness surely wouldn’t do any harm, Evan thought, but at the same time, their resources were already stretched thin. Wasn’t that why Carter wanted them back on Atlantis? So they could also help in the search for the Athosians? They’d looked everywhere, had even tried to establish contact with the Wraith Worshippers to try and find out whether they had anything to do with the sudden disappearance of an entire people. But no luck so far.

             “I could get in touch with some of my old contacts as well,” Teyla suggested, and Sheppard’s head snapped around at her. He didn’t say anything, but the way he looked at her was more than just disconcerting. Like he was angry with her. For what?

             Alex caught his gaze and she shook her head ever so slightly. Did she know something he didn’t?

             “We’ll see,” Carter said. “Until then, I suggest we all get back to work and-“

             “Colonel,” Evan said, “I’d like to take my team and investigate that planet again. And I’d like to take Major Murdoch’s team as well. They’re familiar with Jaffa tactics, especially with Ba’al.” And they were. All of them, maybe except for Nabi. And for once the Wraith weren’t their biggest problem. They’d started attacking each other over territorial disputes a few weeks ago, which meant they were too busy fighting each other than going after Atlantis. All in all, this wasn’t the worst timing for Ba’al to show up again.

             “Major Murdoch isn’t back on his feet yet, is he?” Ronon said. “I could go with.”

             Evan nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

             “Alright, then.” Carter nodded. No additional trip to the planet with the Nox writing, then. As usual, they just had to prioritize. This couldn’t sit too well with Alex, but at least she’d be going with him.

 

 

“What I don’t get,” Alex said when they were back in their apartment, “is why he’s allowing that symbol to spread. He must know we’re back in Pegasus, I mean, with us gone, he knew that nobody could possibly realize what he was up to, he only had to deal with Replicators and Wraith, but with us back in the picture- it just doesn’t make sense! And he’s too clever for that.”

             “Or so he’d like us to believe,” Evan shrugged. He knew Alex was right, though. Ba’al’s network, or whatever it was he was trying to set up, was rapidly growing, despite the fact that he must know this couldn’t go on forever. “The problem is that we can’t prove he’s done anything bad around here. So far that symbol is just popping up and-“ he fell silent at the look she gave him. His throat tightened. “You know what I mean.” People getting strung up probably wasn’t that unusual, though slavery definitely was. That sort of thing, according to Teyla, Ronon and Halling, hadn’t been an issue in this galaxy for centuries, if it ever had been an issue at all. The people here were too busy surviving the Wraith.

             Alex dropped her notebook on the desk already strewn with notebooks. Coming back here, she didn’t even try to go back to note-taking on her tablet or her laptop. Not until she found the notes of particular interest anyway. She rather spent hours transferring notes than taking them directly on her device. “I’m gonna take a shower before I go to the lab.” The boxes with soil samples and the cameras were already there, so she could get to work straight away. Jonas and Anna had probably already gotten a head start on that.

             “Will you be okay going there undercover?” he asked, sitting down on the bed and starting to undo his shoelaces. He might just as well go to the gym if Alex decided to spend the rest of the day in her lab. He didn’t have anything else scheduled. He stretched his toes as soon as they were free, but he didn’t take his eyes off her. She was tense, her shoulders pulled back, her back stiff as a board.

             She had her back turned to him as she moved the notebooks from one side to the other. “Sure,” she said, picked up one of the notebooks and let it fall again. “Where’s the red one?”

             “In your office maybe?” He hesitated for a moment and watched her lean on the table, her hands on the table top.

             “Evan?”

             “Yes?” He set his boots down and just sat there, staring at her back, listening to her silence.

             “Could you come here and hold me for a while?”

             Evan got up without another word. He was by her side within a second and pushed her hair back. She was still looking at the notebooks. How many were there? Ten? Fifteen? He had lost count.

             “I’m just a bit scared…”

             He nodded, fully aware that she’d only once before admitted to being terrified of something. Not her. Not his brave, wonderful wife. “Me too,” he said. And he was. For her, for himself, for this whole galaxy. Facing Ba’al once was one thing, but knowing what that parasite had thought about doing to her the last time they’d come face to face, made Evan’s pulse race. He tilted her head up, gently forcing her to look at him, to hold his gaze. Her blonde hair was strewn with more grey nowadays. There still wasn’t a lot of it, but he saw the silvery threads when he was this close to her. He could see the lines around her eyes and her forehead. There was no use making promises he couldn’t keep and he knew Alex wasn’t expecting him to.

             Evan gently took off her glasses and set them down. The pressure marks on either side of her nose would fade away quickly enough. His eyes lingered on them for a while, then drifted to her lips. Those wonderful lips he couldn’t imagine living without anymore. And then he looked up into her eyes, his breath catching at the sincerity in them. At the softness and the depth in them. Nobody else could possibly look at her and feel the same way. He leaned in, kissed the thin furrow between her brows and felt her lips on the side of his mouth. Her arms encircled him, and her body heat spread around his torso almost immediately. “You know,” he muttered, his lips trailing along her temple, his fingertips slowly sliding into her hair and pulling her even closer. “Sometimes I think I could shoot all those damn clones and still not be done with him.”

             She didn’t say anything, but he could feel her hands gripping his shirt and her chest moving closer to his. He pulled her against him, one arm around her shoulder, the other around her waist and it took a while for her to relax against him, for her muscles to lose some of their tension. Her hand trailed up his spine until her fingertips rested on the nape of his neck and her breath hit his throat. Hot and dry. She swallowed hard and kissed his jaw. “No,” she said finally, her voice firm and cold. “Shooting him won’t be enough.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 39

2007

“Trinium,” Zelenka said, pushing his glasses up. “Definitely.”

            Alex nodded. She’d expected something like that. Anna and Jonas had removed the tile while Alex and Evan were up in the Jumper to talk to Carter. There’d been no other way to analyse it otherwise, since the material itself wouldn’t budge. “It’s not a very common material here, is it? I mean, naquadah occurs quite frequently?”

            “Yes, definitely, and there are traces of naquadah in the stone as well. Just bare traces, but still.”

            “Oh, okay, well, thanks, Radek.” They were back only a day and she appreciated that Zelenka had taken the time to analyse the tile, especially with everything that was going on. She carefully picked up the tile and placed it in a styrofoam lined  box. They’d get it back to the square first chance they got, but by the looks of it, that day would come sooner than anticipated after all. Evan had been on standby for a whole day now, and not for a mission to investigate Ba’al, but because a Wraith hive ship was apparently sending them a tracking signal.

            “Any idea what this could be about?” Zelenka asked and Alex shook her head.

            “Not yet. Jonas is busy with the translation, but he hasn’t cracked it yet.”

            “Hm,” With a shrug, Zelenka put his tablet under his arm. “I’m going to the control room, so if you don’t mind…”

            “No, it’s fine. Thanks for this. It’s a big help.” And it was. Trinium was a precious element, not always easy to mine and valuable wherever they’d come so far. It was just another hint at how important that square must have been back in the day. And she’d rather work on this project than follow the traces of a deranged System Lord through this galaxy. She knew it had to be done, but she also knew that it would only send her into more emotional turmoil.

            “Any news on that signal?” she asked as they were leaving Zelenka’s lab. Most of the other scientists who were usually busy on this floor had already gone to lunch.

            “Not yet. I’m going to check up on it right now. We believe it’s the Wraith who helped us with the Replicators.”

            “Ah.” A friendly, or rather, a helpful Wraith. Alex still couldn’t quite believe in that, but she wasn’t the only one. She doubted however, that the Wraith in question was stupid enough thinking that setting an obvious trap like that could work. So, maybe, it was a call for help. That was what Evan believed anyway. “Well then,” she said, picking up the small protective box. “Good luck.”

 

“No,” Evan said decidedly, working the parmesan into his pasta with his fork.

            De Clare shook his head and leaned back. “I mean, you could just tell people the buildings in your pictures were something you made up?”

            Evan shrugged. “Maybe,” he looked up at Alex, who had finished her pasta ahead of him. “I don’t like showing my paintings around. You just walked in on me.”

            “Lucky you,” Alex said with a grin, peeling the lid off the container with blue jell-o. “He was very hesitant to show me his.”

            Evan dropped his gaze to his tray. His ears were starting to get hot. Why were they even having this conversation? Why had de Clare just barged in on him that morning, as he was finishing a painting. This city was enormous, how could someone just walk into someone else?

            “I’m just saying: you’re good. Don’t let it go to waste.”

            “He’s not,” Alex said defensively.

            “Alright, then,” de Clare said. “I liked what I saw, Major. Take the compliment.” He nodded gravely and got up to clear away his tray and get back to work. “You two enjoy your meal.”

            “We will,” Evan said, just about keeping himself from rolling his eyes. Alex was grinning at him, the spoon she was holding just hovering over the jell-o. “What?”

            “I bet your mom would like to see more of the stuff you painted.”

            “Yes, and my dad would like to read your latest report on Nox writing on an alien planet.”

It didn’t stop her from smiling. She just shrugged and dipped her spoon into the dessert. “One day. Maybe.”

            “Wow, you’re optimistic.” Especially given what they’d been through already. But she shook her head.

            “No, not really. I just think that no government can keep this operation secret forever. The private sector is already involved in multiple parts of the Stargate Program. It just takes one leak and one broadcaster stupid enough to run the evidence, and your paintings will sell like van Goghs.”

            Evan laughed. He couldn’t help himself, and the only other option would have been to bury his face in his arms. “Doctor,” he said, “I love you.”

            “Good,” she nodded. Where had that insecurity gone? Where was that fear from the day before hiding now? But before he could ask, he heard Sheppard’s voice in his ear. These comms should be forbidden in the mess hall. They really should.

            “Major Lorne, this is Sheppard.”

            Evan closed his eyes for a moment and reached out for Alex’s hand. “Go ahead, Colonel.”

            “Major, I want you to assemble your team. We’re going to check out that signal.”

            “Yes, Sir.” And that was that. Another mission. No chance of going after Ba’al. He just had to wait, because a Hive just floating in open space was more important.

            “Do you have to go?”

            Evan nodded, squeezed her hand and got up. “I’ll be back in a day or so,” he said. It wouldn’t take longer than a day, or at least he doubted that it would.

 

Woeste, Jonas and Nabi were already as good as geared up when Evan arrived in the locker room, though he wasn’t the last one to arrive. Ronon came into the room a whole two minutes after him, while McKay was busy tying his boots.

            “And we’re sure it’s the right signal?” Jonas asked, as he shrugged into his vest.

            Sheppard nodded. “As sure as we can be. But we’re just going there to check it out, see who’s still walking about on that ship, see if it’s really our guy.”

            “It is him,” McKay said, sounding more than just a little annoyed. He didn’t like his assessment being questioned. The man really had the ego of a dictator when it came to physics.

            Evan took the holster from his locker, took a brief look at the picture of Alex he kept in there, then closed the door and proceeded to strap it to his leg, when he spotted a movement to his left. Teyla. She wasn’t coming alomg. Of course she wasn’t. Nobody would even think of putting her out in the field in her condition, especially not into a potentially dangerous situation.

            But she wasn’t even looking at him, her eyes were instead fixed on Sheppard and Evan had to get out of the way quickly to make room for her.

            “Teyla,” Sheppard said, his voice distant. What the hell was wrong with these two? But it clearly wasn’t any of his business, so Evan quickly dropped his gaze.

            “Colonel,” she began and Sheppard turned his back on her. The tension was clearly palpable. Evan exchanged a glance with Jonas and realized he must be thinking along the same lines. Sheppard had been acting weird towards Teyla for a whole week now. Everybody had noticed it. “I just heard,” she continued, though Sheppard was clearly unwilling to talk to her. Not about this.

            Jonas raised his eyebrows and closed his tactical vest.

            “I would like to accompany you on this mission.” Still that proud, firm voice, but Evan already knew what Sheppard would say. There was no way Teyla would come along, and she must know it too.

            “We got it covered,” Sheppard replied, taking another tactical vest from one of the hangers and slipping his arms through it.

            Just keep pretending this isn’t happening, Evan told himself, doing his best not to look at her. Instead he just checked that he had everything he might need. God, if this were Alex, begging to come along, he didn’t know what he’d do. Especially in front of all these people. This wasn’t an easy task and Evan couldn’t help but think that Sheppard was letting Teyla slam into a wall of No’s on purpose.

            “John,” she said even more insistently and, not for the first time, did Evan wonder if Sheppard was angry because this wasn’t his kid. “I understand what you’re trying to do, but I assure you, it is not necessary.”

            Evan quickly looked up and met McKay’s gaze. Why didn’t he look uncomfortable? Why did he look as though this was perfectly normal? Was this kind of talk normal among the frontline team? Or was McKay just too daft to realize that having this sort of talk in front of others was completely inappropriate? Teyla needed to take a stand, Evan got that, but the way Sheppard refused to look at her, was just nerve wrecking. No, he really needed to get ready more quickly, so he could escape this room.

“My skills have not diminished. And I still have much to offer the team.”

            Sheppard caught Evan’s eyes and one quick jerk of his head was enough to tell Evan that they should get out of here. Well, that was about time. “Alright, guys,” Evan said, “Let’s head out. Wait for you at the Jumper Bay, Sir.” Things hadn’t been this difficult with Anna. She’d told him she wouldn’t be coming along to any more missions, he’d found out about the baby and that was that. No big drama. But then again, Anna was in a different position. Anna’s husband wasn’t missing, she didn’t have to be constantly worried about her people. She could just stay on Atlantis and keep working. Evan wondered how Teyla slept at night, when all she must be thinking about was her family. Evan certainly would’ve been just as much on edge as she was. And still he was glad that he could just go and leave this situation, because Sheppard was the one acting like a jerk here. He could have told Teyla to talk outside, out of earshot of everybody else. He could have talked this through with Teyla in a different location, so, of course, Teyla had barged in here. Evan might have done the same in her place.

            Jonas and the others followed him out of the room and into the corridor and after about two minutes, Ronon had caught up with him. “Is Teyla doing okay?” Evan asked and Ronon nodded grimly.

            “She’s really pushing herself, but I guess she’s doing fine.”

            Nodding, Evan waved his hand in front of the sensor of the transporter. “Good.” Last he’d heard Teyla was still in her first trimester. “She’ll be fine, I’m sure.” As long as Sheppard doesn’t make this any harder on her than it already is. Evan would never have expected Sheppard to act the way he did. If he was into Teyla, he should have just asked her out. It happened all the time, especially here on Atlantis. New couples were emerging all the time, something which would never have happened at the SGC. But most people here weren’t military. They were still very much cut off from their ties back home, despite the Gate Bridge and the Daedalus and the Apollo ferrying personnel and goods from one galaxy to the other. Sometimes it was just a fling, sometimes, real relationships came into being here. One look at Chuck and Fisherman, or at Anna and Murdoch proved that. And if Sheppard had missed his chance with Teyla, then he just had to suck it up.

 

“I mean, we don’t need a massive team,” Anna was saying as they walked along the hallway leading to the cafeteria with Carter.

            “I’m not sure I’m comfortable sending you back there without an escort.” Carter shook her head. Evan and the others had only left about half an hour ago, but Carter was still obviously preoccupied with their mission.

            “Colonel,” Alex said, “Just a day, that’s all we’re asking. We’re not nearly done cataloguing, and maybe-“ She almost crashed into Carter, who’d stopped so abruptly Alex had no time to slow down.

            “You’re going to keep at it, aren’t you?” Carter turned around, her eyebrows raised. Really, things were so different from how they’d been back on Earth. On Earth, as a member of SG-1, Carter had been her colleague. Now she was her boss. She’d talked to Adam. She’d been in her house.

Carter sighed. “Fine. I’ll dispatch Major Teldy’s team to accompany you. There were no traces of any recent activity on that planet were there? No Wraith?”

            “Nope,” Alex shook her head, unable to suppress a grin.

            “I worked with Daniel long enough to know you’re not giving up. And I don’t see the harm, since your team won’t be going after Ba’al for another couple of days anyway, Doctor Lorne. Just stay in regular contact, okay?”

            “Absolutely,” Anna said with a wide grin. “We’ll bring lots of pictures.”

            Carter sighed and stepped into the transporter with a smile. “You better.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 40

2007

The little tent they’d set up wasn’t making this mission fun exactly, but at least the water pouring down from the heavens made it a lot easier to clear the tiles of dust. Judging by the light peeking through the cloud cover overhead, the rain would stop in the next half hour or so, so that wasn’t all bad. And Anna wasn’t complaining, so why should she?

            Teldy and her team were still in the Jumper, which Alex had set down about fifty metres from where Alex and Anna were kneeling now. They’d put the tile back and were now busy cleaning the third tile of the day. And there appeared to be only three, laid out in a triangular shape, each tile forming one corner. The central tile though was smooth. Smoother than any of the other tiles. Alex hadn’t noticed it before, because it was just as dirty and covered in muck as the others, but this one almost felt like marble. Cool and without a single flaw.

            “Maybe we should go check out the stele again,” Anna said, sitting upright again. “I mean, the stele, standing where it is at the moment, has to have more of a meaning, right? It’s not just there.” They hadn’t been able to make out the dialect there, though the writing on that stele had definitely been identified as some derivative of Ancient by Jonas. The symbols looked slightly different, more roundish, but the basic shapes of the letters remained the same.

            “Let’s wait till the rain passes,” Alex said. If Anna got a cold, Oliver would surely kill her, but Anna wouldn’t budge.

            “We don’t have that much time, you know?”

            “I know,” Alex sighed, “but Carter is right. This place is still going to be here in a couple of weeks, so let’s wait half an hour or so.” She was happy to be outside. Happy to be working and not thinking or worrying about Evan. It was always best to keep her mind occupied when he was out, risking his skin, but still.

            “Fine,” Anna sighed, wriggling her hands out of her gloves. “Just half an hour, though.”

 

“Lorne, you got anything?”

            “Nothing so far.” Nothing but a whole lot of empty corridors which looked like they’d come straight out of a horror computer game, and that fog, which was so damn typical for Wraith Hives. He exchanged a look with Woeste, who was walking right next to him while Nabi and Jonas had taken the rear. The ship lay abandoned, according to McKay it had been damaged by Wraith weapons fire and there wasn’t a single soul onboard. If Wraith had souls, that was. They might have personalities, but somehow Evan doubted that a creature which could drain the life force belonging to other beings, could have a soul. But that might be a question for theologians, philosophers or vampire hunters.

Woeste shook his head and Evan looked down at the life signs detector in his hand. Still nothing.

            “Well, we got bodies,” Sheppard said.

            “Acknowledged. We’ll keep looking.”

            “He’s a lot more relaxed at the moment, wouldn’t you agree?” Jonas said and Evan barely kept himself from grinning. It really wasn’t his place to gossip about his commanding officer with his team. He might indulge in that with Alex when he got back, but not right here and now.

            “A corpse aboard a Wraith ship is definitely preferable to a Queen,” Evan said after a while as they moved around the corner. His throat tightened and he stood frozen for a second as he looked at cut-outs in the walls. He’d never been inside of them, but he knew the Wraith stored their food in them. And food, in their case, meant humans of course. But they were empty. Nothing but air behind the thin membrane. They must be close to the prisoner cells by now, if he remembered the layout correctly. But he doubted there would be anyone in there, if the cocoons were empty.

            “Lorne, come join us up on the bridge, we found the tracking device.”

            “Just the device, Sir?”

            “Just the device. And a couple more Wraith corpses.”

            Evan wasn’t entirely sure if he should be relieved or not. “We’ll be right there, Colonel.”

 

It didn’t even take half an hour for the sky to clear up. The leaves on the edge of the overgrown square were still dripping with rainwater, but already the humidity was rising up from beneath their feet.

            “Where is that stele you were talking about?” Alison Porter asked. She was a member of the science department and had recently been assigned to Major Teldy’s team. This must be the only all-female team on the Atlantis expedition and Alex wondered, just for a second, what that said about their expedition, because all-male teams were completely normal.

            “Just a couple of hundred feet into the forest over there.”

            “Didn’t you take about a thousand pictures of the thing already?” Mehra asked, her dark eyes staring longingly at the box which contained their provisions. “If you don’t mind, I’m just gonna make some coffee and wait for you to get back?” They’d been here three hours already, but due to the rain, they hadn’t been able to start a fire until now.

            “As long as you make enough for everyone,” Teldy said, joining Alex and Anna at the end of the Jumper. “Take the lead, Doctors.” They could have gone by themselves, but Alex got the sense that Carter had asked Teldy to look out for them even more than usual. Not, that Anna and Alex couldn’t defend themselves, but after what had happened to Doctor Pryce and her team, such measures were quite prudent. Better safe than sorry.

            “So,” Vega asked, catching up to them, as she, Teldy, Anna and Alex slowly started making their way into the forest. “What do you think this is all about?”

            “A meeting place?” Anna suggested, looking at Alex as though for confirmation and then proceeding to tie her black hair up into a ponytail. “I mean, it could be anything, but there are three different kinds of writing, no other artefacts as of now. We’d have to search this place really thoroughly to get some idea.

            “Why a meeting place?” Vega asked, looking over her shoulder back at the Jumper, where Mehra and Alison were already busy setting up the little gas cooker.

            “Who knows? We’ll see, I guess?”

            “It might be nothing,” Alex said, pushing a couple of branches out of the way as her  eyes fell on the little clearing, where she and Evan had lain only a few days ago. They’d been really reckless, Alex realized. Anybody might have stumbled across them. Literally. But still, Alex couldn’t bring herself to regret it. She rarely felt so drawn in by Evan than in those moments when something just seemed to hit him. When he dragged her to a secluded place, or to their apartment without a word. When her kisses meant more than just a declaration of love. Like she was the most exquisite thing in the universe. The man was absolutely insane. “But then again, who can say.”

            Teldy sighed. “Yes… well, if you think it’s worth our while, I believe you. Doctor Jackson’s work brought us here, after all.”

            Alex grunted to stifle a laugh. “Tell him that when you get the chance. It’ll make his day.”

 

The ship couldn’t do anything but stand still and keep them alive. Several systems were shot, the entire crew, or those who hadn’t been fed upon, was just gone, most likely taken prisoner, but Jonas, Woeste and Nabi were still searching the ship for any stragglers in hibernation. Evan doubted they’d find anything.

            “Be back as soon as possible, Major,” Sheppard was saying, going up the ramp and handing one of the boxes containing emergency provisions to him. “But who knows how long it’ll take her to say yes.”

            “Sir, with all due respect, I’m sure she’ll come as soon as you just ask her nicely.” Evan just couldn’t help himself. Let it sting. Sheppard deserved it, and it wasn’t as though Sheppard didn’t know this already.

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “Nothing, Sir,” Evan said lightly, walking down the ramp. “Just saying. Teyla is the only one we know and trust who can fly this thing, she knows it…” and there were a billion other reasons as to why it was perfectly sensible to fetch her now. The ship was safe. There were no Wraith onboard, no other Hive nearby.

            “Right,” Sheppard huffed. “Take care of the ship, Lorne.”

            “I’ll just make sure McKay doesn’t blow it up.”

            “Good luck with that.” Sheppard clearly wasn’t in the mood for jokes, and Evan could practically feel how pissed Sheppard was that now he had to go ask Teyla to come along anyway. But Teyla had the gene. Teyla could do this. And they needed the ship, because, frankly, any additional vessel was good in their current situation. McKay and the other scientists would just need to find a way for them to fly it without the gene.

            Evan put the box down and rummaged through it. Nothing too fancy, just a couple of power bars. With a sigh and making a mental note to tell Woeste to check the boxes next time, he packed six of them. McKay would already be complaining about being hungry, he was sure of that. He looked at the label. “Apricot Jubilee,” he read out loud with a grin, just as the rear hatch of the Jumper closed and Sheppard took off. Alex loved that stuff. Heaven knew why.

 

“Two more,” Anna exclaimed when she returned out of the forest and headed straight for Alex, who was already packing up. Their day here was almost over, and they’d taken all the pictures they could. The tile was replaced, the other two cleaned and catalogued.

            “Two more what?” Alison asked. She was holding one of the tent poles and had just folded it up. It caught in her dark hair for a second. She’d just told Alex that she would cut it, too. Really, most days Alex was just glad she’d cut off hers.

            “Steles!” Anna grinned. “Two more steles.” She sounded triumphant as she stood next to Alex, while Mehra looked up at the now pale blue sky. It would get dark soon. Not that Anna minded. She pointed at the forest, a straight line between the tiles with Nox and the one with Ancient writing, then she drew another line through the air between the tile with the Ancient and the hitherto unknown writing, directly opposite from where they’d parked the Jumper. “I took pictures,” Anna said, looking  in the direction of the first stele they’d found. Another straight line, this time between the unknown script and the Ancient script.

            “Ceremonial, then,” Alex concluded, when she should have been guessing, a grin spreading across her face. The Ancients had never been too interested in ceremonies, or rather, they hadn’t left behind much proof of ceremonies, though of course, they must have had them. If this discovery didn’t mean a group of scientists would be coming back with them, then Alex didn’t know what would.

            “How do you mean?” Teldy picked up the box which held Alex’s camera and tablet and slung the strap over her shoulder.

            “Just… the layout is very deliberate, there’s no other indication of sentient beings ever having been to this planet apart form the Gate and these things here. And they have been placed her deliberately. Like a monument.”

            Teldy nodded, her grey eyes trailing the tree line. “Okay.”

            “Did you manage to send that message to Daniel yet?” Anna asked as she started helping Alison to pack up.

            “I did it when we first got back to Atlantis. But I’m not sure it’s been forwarded to Earth yet.”

            Anna nodded. “Well, he’s going to love this.”

            No doubt about that.

 

“Wraith don’t much like to sit, do they?” Woeste said, sitting down on the ground. And he wasn’t wrong. There were barely ever any chairs or anything like that on Wraith ships. The Ancients had been a lot better at making proper furniture.

            “Endless stamina,” Nabi suggested jokingly and sitting down next to him.

            “Hm.” The sound Jonas made reminded Evan eerily of Alex when she was thinking hard about something. He’d sat down shortly before Teyla had made the jump to hyperspace and, by the looks of it, was going through some notes.

            “What?” Evan asked, leaning against the pillar by the base of which Jonas was sitting. The Nox writing again. Though, whether it was the one on the stele, or the one on the tile, Evan couldn’t quite guess.

            “This one letter,” Jonas said. “It appears several times.”

            Evan just shrugged and looked at the symbol Jonas was pointing at. A triangular shape with a little dot in its centre.

“So? So does the letter E.” Nabi said, leaning back against the wall and rolling his eyes.

            “It doesn’t appear in the Nox alphabet which Doctor Jackson recorded several years ago,” Jonas said with a shake of his head, pressing a button on his tablet to switch to the next file. Another photo. Now, those symbols looked more familiar. They were almost everywhere on Atlantis.

            “Ancient,” Evan said and Jonas nodded.

            “Same here… one symbol which appears more often than others.”

            “I-“ Nabi began, but he was cut off by Woeste.

            “Shush, let Indy do his work.”

            “Indy?” Jonas looked up with a frown, but as soon as his gaze met Evan’s he realized that he’d, once again,  missed a pop culture reference. “All those movie nights on Atlantis will never prepare me for this, will they?”

            “I doubt it,” said Nabi. “But they’re doing a Disney marathon next Saturday. Should be fun. I wish Teyla’s or Schneider-Murdoch’s kid were already here to watch them with us. Always more fun with kids.”

            Jonas quickly averted his gaze to stare at the tablet again. He’d clearly not gotten over his loss and it would take years until Jonas would be more easy about this topic. Evan had only just managed to crawl out of that particular hole himself. Well, more or less.

“Which symbol do you mean?” he asked quickly, before Nabi and Woeste could discuss the merits of watching animated movies with children.

“This one,” Jonas said, pointing at a clear-cut rectangle. “Not part of their alphabet. At least not as far as I know.”

“Where are we going anyway?” Woeste asked, quietly, ignoring Jonas and Evan.

“A Wraith lab,” Evan answered before Nabi could answer and clapping Jonas on the back. This news would most certainly get Alex’s attention when they got back to Atlantis. Five years ago, Evan would have hated Jonas for this. Right now, he was glad Alex had someone this competent to help her in her work. How things had changed…

“Why are we going there again?” Nabi asked, “I mean, without two or three Marines?”

“Just going to check it out. Keep your hat on. Standard recon,” Evan said, moving towards the bridge again. The soft shivering of the floor told him they’d dropped out of hyperspace. They must be there. This wasn’t exactly a standard reconnaissance missin. Were they still in the Milky Way, they would have had to check back with General Landry before taking a commandeered enemy vessel on a wild goose chase. But of course, this way they were saving time, and time might be of the essence. This Hive had been damaged in battle with another Hive bound for the same location after all.

Evan turned a corner and basically slammed into Sheppard.

“Watch where you’re going,” Sheppard said, running his hand through his already untidy hair. He’d been distant with all of them since Teyla had joined them. Not that he was ever an open book, but he was obviously more closed off, which only confirmed Evan’s suspicion about Sheppard being jealous. Hadn’t he, Evan, acted out in front of Alex as well when she’d first joined the SGC? When he’d been sure he couldn’t have her?

“Sorry, Sir. Just wanted to check up on the status.”

“The status is, you and your men are staying here with Teyla. We’re going to the planet by Jumper.”

Evan nodded. Well, that was fine by him. “Yes, Sir.” McKay didn’t look too comfortable at the prospect of going down to a secret Wraith lab, but Evan had to admit, the physicist had surely proven himself these past few years. He was still a bit of a hypochondriac with a massive ego, but apart from that, he managed to keep his cool in dire situations. Ronon looked over his shoulder, back at the bridge where Teyla must still be. Evan still had no idea what went through the Satedan’s mind most of the time, but it’d been clear from the very beginning of this mission, that Ronon was more protective of Teyla now than ever before.

“Let’s go then,” Sheppard said impatiently and McKay and Ronon followed him along the corridor. Evan could only hope that Sheppard would indeed manage to pull himself together sooner rather than later.

Evan shrugged off the thought. It was just too disturbing. Then he stepped onto the bridge to check up on Teyla, when Jonas’ voice called him from behind. “I got something!”

“Just a sec!” Evan shouted back. Teyla was still standing by the main console, her eyes fixed on the display.

“What did he find?” she asked, eyebrows raised the way she did so well. She wasn’t a complete stranger anymore, though she still kept her professional distance from him. But the way she stood there, completely alone in the centre of the bridge, surrounded by Wraith instruments, she appeared to be even more so. The light complemented her, made her skin look even more even and clear and her dark eyes glistened as she watched him approach. She looked almost feverish, but not in a bad way, and Evan felt his stomach tighten.

She looked like a queen.

Like she was above everything and everyone.

“Uhm,” he said and she stepped away from the pedestal. The illusion vanished and he could take a breath again. This was Teyla. Just Teyla. “Just… he’s working on a translation, or a riddle? I don’t know. Something to do with Alex’s work.”

Teyla nodded and her eyes seemed to droop. “I’ll be fine, Major. I just need to take some rest, I believe. Go ahead.” A clear dismissal.

Evan nodded curtly. “I’ll be back in a few,” he promised.

Chapter Text

 

2007

There were so many people around, he wondered if they’d ever get closer to the display case. This had to be the most visited part of the museum and Evan didn’t even have to wonder why that was. Ancient Egyptian monuments were fascinating, and for a moment he wondered why he hadn’t taken the time to come here on his backpacking trip to London all those years ago. But he’d been too preoccupied with the art and with getting back to the airport at the time. So that was his answer right there. And if he had come here then, then coming here again with Alex, even if it was just for a day, wouldn’t have been half as exciting.

             She was standing on tiptoe as they slowly but surely made their way through the crowd. Christmas had to be one of the busiest times at the museum, and there appeared to be hundreds of families around. Her hand squeezed his for a moment, when they finally got to the front. The other visitors just came up to the stele fragment, looked at it briefly and then turned either left to the Egyptian exhibit or right to the Roman and Greek exhibit.

             “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” It wasn’t really a question and Evan knew she wasn’t expecting an answer.

             “So, this thing is the reason you can read hieroglyphs?” he asked, looking at the dark, broken stone in front of them. It was just a fragment, but still there were three scripts which were perfectly legible etched into the black stone. Whoever had made this, must have taken weeks to complete his task.

             Alex nodded excitedly. She had come here dozens of times already, but he could still practically feel that this, that standing here, wasn’t nothing to her. “It’s the same text in three different languages. And because Greek never truly died out, they were able to decipher the other two scripts and languages.”

             Evan wasn’t sure if he could, with a good conscience, agree that Ancient Greek wasn’t a dead language, but in comparison to Latin or Ancient Egyptian, it was very much alive. At least people today still spoke Greek, even if the modern language probably didn’t have too much to do with the original. “Okay,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. He was doing it again. Swinging his arms because he had no idea what to do with them. And why was he even nervous? He’d ask her to marry him on New Year’s Eve, although he still wasn’t entirely sure she’d say yes. But then again, why wouldn’t she? The only reason to say no, was because they’d only known each other for half a year. But really, what did that matter? His father, the only person in the world Evan had told about his plans, had said so. And his father wasn’t exactly the most impulsive man he knew.

             Alex weaved her arm through his and grinned up at him. “Is this boring?”

             “Not at all,” he grinned and kissed the tip of her nose. “You endured me staring at planes when we went to the stupid museum at the airfield. I’d say, this is far more interesting.”

             She laughed, a sound which managed to turn his bones into goo so easily. “Nice of you to say so.” But that wasn’t it. He liked it here. He liked being here with her.

             “You know,” he said, “this is all art, so I can relate. Right?”

             Alex was still grinning, and she leaned into him. “Right,” she agreed.

 

The floor screeched when Alex came to a sudden stop and set the ball for Anna to strike across the net. But Rick was prepared. He passed the ball to Chuck easily enough and when the ball crossed the net again, it was too fast for Alex to catch.

Anna was a good partner, though not half as good as Evan and Alex just knew that Evan would have been there to cover the spot where the ball had now landed and bounced off to the side. After the fourth point lost to Rick and Chuck, Alex knew that they weren’t getting anywhere with this. And Oliver just enjoyed watching from the side lines. His comments weren’t helping.

             “You know, you can just give up,” Rick said, wiping his brow and grinning triumphantly down at Chuck. They must think she and Anna would just fold.

             “You’d love that, wouldn’t you?” Anna spat at him.

             “Yeah, maybe I would.”

             “Wow, enough trash talk!” Oliver said. He had his foot elevated, and playing volleyball was still out of the question since the cast was still on, but he seemed to enjoy himself. “Get on with it, I’d love to take my wife to dinner at some point”

             “He’s right, I’m starving,” Chuck said. “Let’s call it.”

             “Oh, now you’re too chicken to keep this going?” Anna put her hands on her hips and scowled at Chuck as though he’d offended her.

             “No, I’m just hungry.”

             Rick sighed. “Just take it, he’s not going to stop until I feed him.”

             “You don’t feed me,” Chuck said, “you’re even worse at cooking than Alex here.”

             “I’m not saying I’ll cook for you, I said I’d feed you!”

             “How the hell do you know about my cooking?” Alex interjected, catching Rick and Chuck slightly off-guard. At least Chuck had the decency to blush a little. But Alex couldn’t quite find it in herself to be angry. She was a terrible cook, but finding out that Evan must have made a joke about it at some point, gave her a little pang.

             “Everybody who’s ever been at your place knows,” Anna said quietly, wrapping an arm around Alex’s shoulders and shaking her head. Was that supposed to make her feel better? Less humiliated? And why did she care what others said about her cooking anyway? It wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about. What she should be worried about was, that, somehow, she’d become somewhat of a laughing stock.

             “Listen,” Chuck said, “I’m sorry. Murdoch here said something about a terrible birthday cake the other day, and I just thought-“

             “No, it’s fine,” Alex said quickly, completely unwilling to listen to more of this, and shrugged off Anna’s arm. “Let’s call it a day. I don’t feel too good anyway.” She turned her back on them to pick up the ball. “You go ahead to lunch, I’m gonna tidy up.” And it wasn’t even a lie. She was always nervous when Evan was on a mission and there was no news of him. It’d been a little over a day, that wasn’t too long, but apparently Sheppard had been back here to pick up Teyla and since then there hadn’t been any contact.

             “I’ll help,” said Anna.

             “See you in the mess hall.” Rick still sounded apologetic, but Alex couldn’t face him. Was it still the embarrassment, or the fact that she didn’t want them to see how worried she was?

             The ball landed in the big box sitting in the corner of the small gym. She should learn to get a grip on herself. She really should.

             “Sorry,” she heard Oliver say. “I didn’t know this’d bother you so much.”

             “No, I’m okay,” Alex said. “I’m not even sure I’m upset about it.” She stretched and turned to face him again. Anna was just taking down the net and Alex went to the other side, untied the knots and took it from the pole.

             “You were a bit sluggish today, are you sure?” Anna said, sounding concerned, but Alex just shook her head. “Just worried and tired. The usual, you know.” A Hive ship, even an abandoned one, wasn’t without its dangers. Something might have gone wrong. It’d been damaged, so couldn’t that mean it was so badly damaged that the life support failed? McKay could overlook things, couldn’t he?

             “I’m just going to lie down when we’re done here. Or maybe start working on that report.”

             Anna nodded thoughtfully and started folding the net.

 

Woeste clapped him on the shoulder. “Shift change,” he said and Evan shook his head to wake up properly. Not much use there. Taking naps every now and then was good enough to regenerate, but as the years progressed it was harder to wake up quickly.

“Right,” he muttered, wiped his face with his hand and shook his head. “Have you checked up on Teyla?”

“No, she’s still on the bridge. Didn’t want to join us,” Woeste said as Jonas proceeded to wake Nabi.

“Right,” Evan said again, getting to his feet. It wasn’t as comfortably warm here as it was on the Daedalus and the lighting didn’t help much with remaining alert. The Wraith liked the dark apparently. Really, the Goa’uld were an enemy Evan liked a bit more. They, at least, liked light and decent temperatures. “I’ll check up on her,” he said, rubbing his neck. Should he consult Keller about this? Or would she just tell him to work out more?

Teyla was still sitting on the bench. She looked forlorn somehow, like she’d been forgotten. But Evan somehow doubted Jonas had just left her sitting there. Jonas Quinn didn’t just pass up a chance to chat, did he?

Well, maybe the new Jonas did do that.

Especially to a pregnant lady. Though, of course, Jonas and Teyla had some things in common. Evan couldn’t help but wonder if the Kelownan had been here.

“Hey,” Evan said. “Any word yet?”

“No, they’ve not been in contact.” She turned to face him and Evan wished for a moment he’d stayed up with her. She looked tired and she couldn’t have gotten any sleep, worrying about her team.

Evan looked thoughtfully at the display ahead and found again that he had no idea what it should be telling him. “Well, guess there’s not much to do but wait, huh?” he stated the obvious and sat down next to her. She wasn’t returning his gaze, not directly anyway. And only then did he realize that he hadn’t been alone with her yet. There was something he needed to say. And not just because it was only decent, but because he meant it. “Listen,” he began, “I never got a chance to congratulate you. It’s really great.” He looked down at the floor. Just for a moment. Teyla was expecting a baby. And it was great. For her anyway. It had to be. There were other people who could be parents, even if, apparently, he could never be one. “I didn’t even know you were dating anyone.” He barely managed to hide a grin. Not that Teyla needed to be dating just to be pregnant. If she wasn’t dating, if Kanaan wasn’t the father, which he doubted, then Sheppard might still have a chance after all. That was, if Sheppard stopped acting like an ass. He looked up at Teyla again. She’d be okay, he thought.

She turned to look at him, questions in her eyes. Questions she couldn’t ask, because they weren’t close. Would she be asking him if he and Alex ever planned on having children? Would she ask him if he had any hope for finding the other Athosians? Evan wasn’t sure which question he’d hate to answer more. And then her gaze softened, encouraging him to keep talking. Maybe she just needed a friend of sorts.

“My sister has a couple of kids. Two boys.” It was easier to smile now. The thought of his nephews had that effect on him. He just wished he had more time with them. “Five and seven. I miss being around them.”

             “I’m not really sure what to expect,” she said, saying it as though she were admitting it for the first time.

He was quiet for a moment. What to say to that? We didn’t know either. But it worked out. For a while. “Nobody ever is,” he said finally. They hadn’t been prepared. The smile just vanished from his lips and the ripping echo of the familiar pain was there again. In his chest, tearing at his heart like a hungry animal. They didn’t know what it would be like and it took them a while to get used to the idea of having a kid. And they’d eventually learned that it hadn’t been there fault. That there hadn’t been anything either of them could have done to prevent what had happened. And by now, even Ellen had stopped buggering them about kids. “At least not with the first one. But you get through it.” He and Alex knew what it would be like mostly. It just wasn’t happening for them.

Teyla broke the eye contact and looked back to the display, a sadness in her eyes, which Evan could almost feel himself. So, he thought, Kanaan was the father. It could be the only reason for her sadness. For the fear he felt emanating from her.  

             “Hey, you’re gonna make a great mom.” And she would. And it was the only thing he could think of that might make this easier for her.

Her mouth twitched into a disbelieving smile. And there was a trace of relief in her eyes. “Thank you.” She said it like nobody had said it before and the thought made him strangely angry. Evan doubted McKay or Ronon would be the kind of people to express that sentiment. Sheppard certainly wasn’t. Teyla sighed. “I wish I could be so sure.”

“Well, I am,” he said and nodded. “I’m not sure if you need any specific qualifications, but it’s something you grow into. Even if it takes a while, but I doubt it’ll take that long for you to get there. You’re caring, a leader, you can handle yourself in a fight.”

“Major, if I didn’t know it any better, I’d say you’re making advances,” she joked and he had to smile. The aching in his chest still wasn’t gone.

“Well, I’m describing a couple of attributes I’d also assign to my wife,” he said musingly and looked down on his hands.

Chapter Text

tight, he muscles aching to embrace him, but he needed space right now. She could see it by the way he was sitting, by the way his shoulders were still tense. “So there was another Hive?” she asked to keep him talking. Or had there been a Queen aboard the Hive he’d been on? He wasn’t looking at her, but at his socks. Like they were easier to face than her gaze.

            “Yes… and no… turns out the other Hive was heading to a secret Wraith lab, a cloning facility apparently, where they were reproducing drones by the thousands.” Finally he looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. “And Teyla got them out. Sheppard, McKay and Ronon. She was struggling towards the end, but she’s okay now, I think.” He fell silent for a moment and looked down at his hands again. “She could’ve lost her kid, but she did it anyway.”

“It was her team down there... and you guys aboard the Hive, right? Her life was on the line anyway.”

Evan shook his head. “No.” He cleared his throat and threw the socks on the ground. Not exactly normal behaviour for him. He was shaken by what had happened. Not about the mission, no, he was too much of a professional for that. There was something else. Like he was angry.

Rubbing his arm, she said. “What?”

“We could have jumped to hyperspace easily enough without getting detected. But she wouldn’t abandon the mission. It was only when she was already controlling the Queen- I don’t know how she managed to pull it off, but she did it. She was incredible.” He coughed and rubbed his forehead. The fact that Teyla had Wraith DNA had been common knowledge for a while, as had been the fact that Teyla could sometimes control the minds of Wraith Queens, but this ability alone couldn’t be what was disturbing to him. “I’m sorry, I’m talking gibberish.” He cleared his throat again, as though something was blocking his windpipe. Something he couldn’t get rid of. “She did so well, but towards the end… she was terrified and in pain. I’ve never seen her like that. She was perfectly safe and then, next moment, she was a mess.” He leaned forward, his hand on his chin, his eyes fixed on the socks again. “She did it, though. She got Sheppard and McKay and Ronon out of there, she helped them kill the Queen and at the same time… she could’ve lost her kid and she realized it just as it was almost too late. You should’ve seen her face.” He swallowed hard and shook his head again. He didn’t need to say anything else. She didn’t need to hear it. “I told her she was safe, she was okay, but I couldn’t get through to her. There was something… that Queen must have tried to take control of her or something. To hurt the baby. And if she had… there wouldn’t have been anything I could do to stop it. It’s…” he broke off for a second and balled his hands into fists. “I hate holding a gun and not being able to save someone with it. I feel completely useless.”

“You’re home now. All of you” Alex said, and, hesitatingly, she leaned her head against his. He stiffened for a moment. And then she felt the tension slowly leaving his body with a long breath. He smelled of stale sweat, of clothes worn too long. Of fear and triumph. “You’re all okay. And that lab was destroyed, right?” They’d never leave a place like that intact if it could be helped. “You were there for Teyla, you were there for so many people.”

“By the looks of it, yes,” he said, his arm around her waist. He took another deep breath and shook his head. As though shaking it could mean shaking the memories. “I should go take a shower. Are we gonna go see if we can grab a late dinner later?”

Alex nodded and gently forced his face up. The stubble had started to come in and once again she remembered how much she’d loved his beard, even though he’d only worn it for a couple of months. The stubble reminded her of how caring he’d been then. Of how amazingly comforting and rough at the same time the stubble had been at first, and then the beard had added another layer to his kisses. Not that he was any less caring now, but back then there’d been that additional level of protectiveness. A special nuance he’d only ever shown towards Nora since. And she felt she saw traces of that now. “Yes,” she said, leaning in to kiss his cheek. “But only if you stop brooding.” He would stop eventually. He’d pick himself up, return to work and keep fighting. Because that was just who he was. And it’d taken her a while to understand that. That his work and his calling required him to keep going, even when he didn’t feel like it. She’d known it all along, but to understand it was something different altogether. But it also meant, that he’d always find a way to pick her up as well. Even when their path was constantly disturbed by new obstacles. Like there was some higher power after all, putting them on trial after trial. And if Evan wasn’t the right partner to go through these trials, then who was? “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he sighed, pressing his forehead against hers. “I’m okay.”

 

Teyla was present at the briefing. She and Ronon both. As the only representatives of the Pegasus Galaxy on Atlantis, it was only fitting, even if they knew next to nothing about the steles and the tiles which Alex and the other archaeologists had discovered.

            The chairs had always been uncomfortable, but after about an hour of presentations, first by Anna, then by Jonas and Alex, and the following discussions, Evan was longing to get up, no matter how much he loved listening to Alex talk. He’d heard it all before, though, and his behind was getting numb. He looked around at Sheppard, who had stopped looking at Alex and was twisting a pen in his fingers, using all five of them. Pinky, ring finger, middle finger-

“The conclusion being, that this stele and these tiles point us in the direction of a gate address, is that it?” McKay asked impatiently.

 Index finger- thumb, index finger- Evan couldn’t have been hiding his gaze too well, because Sheppard looked up with a sheepish grin and turned his attention back to the discussion at hand.

“It’s a possibility, yes.” Jonas sat down. The presentation had ended about five minutes ago, but still, he and Alex had been standing ever since, as though facing trial. Alex quickly followed suit. She hadn’t slept well, Evan knew. The research and preparation for this presentation had taken up most of the last forty-eight hours and she had begged Carter to postpone the mission to find out more about Ba’al. Carter had agreed, since Mitchell and his team had requested to join them anyway and it’d take them some time to arrive here. And, consequentially, here Jackson was, sitting next to Evan, scanning the paper in front of him for the zillionth time. The one Alex had been working on until three hours ago.

“What does the data base say?” Carter said, before McKay could complain about Jonas’ vagueness.

“Nothing,” Anna said. She’d sat down right after her own presentation on the stele back on Lantea. It showed references to the ones on the new site, several constellations of letters and words appearing on it, which were also displayed on the new steles, but that was it. Still, there was bound to be a connection. There was no need to argue that point. The need for them to go to that new place, when there was next to no hint as to what might be hidden there, was the point up for discussion. Especially with the hunt for the Wraith Michael, with the defence of the city constantly on the line and the new threat of Ba’al added to the continuing fear that the Wraith might discover their new location and attack. But still, Evan thought, the need to send at least one team to investigate this, had to be obvious. The question was when that would happen and who would go.

Alex flipped her presentation to one of the previous slides, the one where the six symbols which Jonas had found, were depicted. “It doesn’t correspond with any address in the database, but that doesn’t mean there’s no address, right? The Ancients didn’t make any references to stone steles in their recorded history.”

“Or of the Nox ever having been here,” Jackson agreed with her, leaning in a bit closer. “I mean, Sam, this could be anything.”

“Exactly, it could be anything!” McKay exclaimed. “Have you ever considered that there might be a reason for this address not to be in the database? We’ve deleted planets before, haven’t we? Do we want to stumble across another Replicator planet and alert them to our presence here?

“I do not recognize that symbol,” Teyla said, ignoring McKay and pointing at the one on the lower left-hand corner. An almost completed circle with two lines running parallel to each other. “I do not believe I have ever seen it appear in an address.”

“No, it’s there,” Ronon said. “I’ve seen it. But only once or twice maybe.”

Evan wasn’t surprised. Ronon must have remembered most of the addresses he’d ever been to, if not in his position as a military commander, then as a Runner. Nobody wanted to take the Wraith to a planet twice, or encounter an ambush on the other side, if necessary.

“Yes, it doesn’t occur in a lot of addresses,” Jonas explained, clearing his throat. “It only appears in twenty or so sequences in the database, which isn’t a lot considering there are thousands of addresses in there.”

The symbols referred to constellations. The same principle which had worked in the Milky Way, had also been applied to the system in Pegasus. The occurrence of a constellation accordingly referred to a position in space from a certain point of origin. By all likelihood that symbol would take them to an area of the galaxy which hadn’t been densely settled and suddenly Evan wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to just stumble through the Gate and hope for the best. If anything, they could be diving deep into Wraith territory or meet with another dangerous civilization, which the Ancients would rather forget. Especially if the address had been wiped from the database. “So,” he said, looking at Alex and folding his hands on the table in front of him. He hated even suggesting to agree with McKay, but even if this wasn’t a ruse to lure them into a dangerous situation, they didn’t have a lot of time to spend on a quest now. “There’s no hint as to where this address would lead us? Or what the purpose of those steles and tiles is?”

“Well, we haven’t gotten far with the translation,” Alex said and when Sheppard dropped his pen loudly on the table, she almost flinched. She straightened her back and looked at Evan again. “No,” she said decidedly. “Not as of now.”  She held his gaze with an intensity which suggested that she’d have a word or two to say about this later on, “but-“

“It looks like a meeting place,” Jackson interrupted her, “Built for a purpose, maybe a ceremony. This might lead us to another depository.”

“We don’t need a depository,” McKay said, “We have the Ancient database.”

“Yes, but it’s not like we know everything there is to know about the Ancients and their technology, or about the Nox, or the Furlings,” Jackson argued, “And I agree, it’s not completely urgent to try that address now, but we’d better check it out sooner rather than later, right? Just in case?” He looked almost hopefully at Carter. A look, which he certainly would never have used for Landry. From Evan’s past experience, Jackson was a lot more authoritative when it came to defending his views, but he and Carter had been teammates and friends for over ten years, so, of course, their dynamics were different.

Carter nodded and exchanged a glance with Sheppard. “General Landry tells me, SG-1 should be back on Earth for some special event in Washington in a week, so I suggest, we deal with the Ba’al situation and Colonel Sheppard and his team can check out that address with Jonas to assess the situation in the meantime. If anything turns up there, we’re going to have plenty of time to send you through as well, Daniel.” There was almost a twinkle in her eye as she said it. She must know Jackson was bound to be desperate to get there. As was Alex.

Jackson nodded with a grin, then looked at Alex with an appreciative smile, who leaned back nodding as well. Why had Evan been worried about Jonas, when Jackson and Alex clearly had more in common? Somehow that had never really been an issue.

McKay just rolled his eyes.

 

Cameron was ready before the rest, attaching his P-90 to his vest before Alex had strapped her holster to her leg.

            “You sure you don’t want us to come along?” Sheppard asked from the doorway, but Mitchell shook his head.

            “We’re experts at hunting that Goa’uld,” he said, nodding at his team. “We caught about thirty so far.

            “Thirty two to be precise,” Teal’c added.

            “Are you counting those who deliberately allowed themselves to be captured so they could infiltrate the SGC, because I’m not sure we should do that.” Daniel closed the zipper of his jacket and then proceeded to the hangers with the vests.

            “I can’t believe we missed all the excitement,” Alex mumbled, exchanging a look with Evan as he tied his boots.

            “Who fought the Wraith? I think that was you?” Cameron grinned and sat down next to Evan. The two of them had fought in Antarctica, Alex remembered, and they’d been on a mission or two together when the Atlantis expedition had been put on halt. They’d gotten along reasonably well, even if Evan had complained several times about Cameron’s shoddy handywork in their house. But only long enough for Alex to see that he had done a better job at fixing things which Cameron had tried to fix before him. Like he’d been trying to prove to her that he was just the better man. It’d been adorable, the way he was desperate to prove something that didn’t need proving.

            “Not as much as those guys,” Evan said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder at Sheppard, who was still leaning awkwardly in the doorway. “Though, to be fair, they messed up a thing or two as well.” He threw a grin at Sheppard, who just shrugged.

            “Despite everything, we have an excellent track record with Wraith and Replicators, yes.”

            “Are you seriously comparing who killed more bad guys?” Wriggling her eyebrows significantly, Vala sat down as well and grinned at Alex. “You’re the historian. Are you keeping track?”

            “I should be, right?”

            “I believe Doctor McKay is,” Teal’c said with a nod.

            “Of course he is,” Evan mumbled and got up.

            With a throat-clearing cough from the door, Sheppard pushed himself away from the doorframe. “I see I’m not needed here.”

            “Will you be bored?” Cameron asked, as he shook out his cap and put it on his head, “I hear those dig sites can be a bit lame sometimes.”

            Vala let out a groan and nodded. “You have no idea.”

            “Not all the time,” Evan added, throwing a look at Alex and giving her that grin she remembered all too well from the countless times he’d held her in his arms after making love to her. That soft smile, the significant twinkling in his eyes, which nobody but her knew. He looked down at his vest quickly to make sure he had everything he might need.

            “You’re a geek, are you?” Vala asked, as Sheppard sighed again.

            “Well, then, since you’re all ignoring me anyway: have fun!”

            “You too!” Cameron shouted after him, then looked at Alex and Evan. “Ready?” Outranking Evan, he’d be taking charge of this mission, who was more familiar with Pegasus. Still, addressing Evan like this suggested that he’d be treated as an equal, if not an equal in rank.

            “Sure,” Evan said, accepting the position readily enough.

            Vala searched through her pockets as they walked along the corridor to the Jumper, where their disguises would already be waiting for them. The plan was to arrive at the other side in a cloaked Jumper and to enter the village in small groups. “I knew I’d packed more than one,” she said, producing a bar of chocolate from her vest and offering it to Alex as they walked. “These trips can get exceptionally boring.”

            Alex laughed and accepted the chocolate after hesitating briefly. “How do you mean?”

            “You know, the ones where you think there’s going to be a lot of action, often turn out to be the ones where you have to wait a lot.”

            “Huh,” Alex said, cocking her head and shrugging. “Maybe. I never thought of it that way.” She slipped the chocolate into her vest pocket.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

2007

They took the transporter to the control room and already Alex felt like the extra layer of clothing might be too much. It certainly was for the city, where the temperature was always closely monitored and where the corridors were always rather on the cool side. What things would be like on the other side of the Gate, she didn’t know. Maybe she should have checked the information in the database before. Then at least she’d know whether the area of the planet they were about to embark on, was hot or cold, whether they should expect wind and rain at this time of year, or whether it’d be nothing but dry heat, in which case the chocolate in her vest pocket would be reduced to a bit of goo wrapped in plastic within half an hour.

             Mitchell and Evan were taking the lead up the staircase and then turned into Carter’s office. They’d join them in the Jumper Bay in a few minutes. Alex, Teal’c, Daniel and Vala in the meantime were just on their way to the last flight of stairs, when Johnson came rushing down. “Sorry,” she said as Alex jumped to the side to make room for her. But Johnson wasn’t smiling. She looked a bit distressed and threw Alex an almost angry look, as she almost ran over to the control station and took up her post next to the DHD.

             “What was that about?” Vala asked, but Alex just shrugged and took to the staircase.

             “She’s a bit skittish sometimes,” she said, though when her eyes met Johnson’s again, she felt a foreboding cramp in the pit of her stomach. Not too big, but it was there, and Alex had no idea why. She quickly looked up the stairs again and started walking. Only when she reached the top level and saw one of the newly arrived Marines quickly rush back into one of the empty Jumpers, did the nagging pain ease up a little. “People sometimes get a bit love-crazy here,” she added lightly, heading for Jumper Three, the one usually assigned to Evan and his team.

             “You should know,” Vala said lightly, sitting down in the co-pilot’s seat without even bothering to ask.

             “Actually, I like being a bit more discreet.” Alex looked up to the nets on either side of the rear compartment to check that they had all the supplies they might need and to have an excuse not to look at Vala or, which would have been even more embarrassing, at Daniel or Teal’c. It was strange to think that, once all the Ba’al clones were captured, if that could ever be the case, this team might disband forever. In all the time Alex had been working for the SGC, there hadn’t been a team without Teal’c in it. For a while Daniel had ascended and Jonas had taken his place, then O’Neill had been promoted. Now Carter was on Atlantis, but Teal’c had always been there. Would he finally return to his homeworld and rebuild the Jaffa Nation? What would he do when it was all over? Or would he stay on Earth? By the looks of it, Vala certainly would. She’d made a home on Earth, mostly because of her team and the effort she’d put into fighting the Ori. And Alex couldn’t really imagine SG-1 disbanding. Not completely. If there was one constant in the Stargate Program, it was this.

             “Are we all set?” Mitchell said as he trudged up the ramp, followed closely by Evan. “Get out of that seat Vala, Alex here is the only other one trained to fly this thing.”

             “It doesn’t really take a whole lot of training,” Alex said as Evan pushed past her, touching her side briefly as he went.

             “Yeah, it does with some people,” Evan said as he sat down in his own seat and Vala was unceremoniously shoved off the other front seat by Mitchell.

             “Fine,” Vala muttered as she moved to the back and lay down on the bench. “Wake me up when we get there.”

             Alex rarely sat down in the passenger seat next to Evan, but, as always, it felt eerily like sitting next to him in their Volkswagen back home, despite the fact that the console between them was bigger than the one in their car. And his grin told her that the same thought must have struck him as he started the systems.

             “I don’t think we’ll be back in time for this appointment in DC,” Mitchell said, “and to be honest, I’m not exactly looking forward to it, so I won’t mind if this does take a bit longer.”

             “Is it another one of those inquiries?” Evan asked, as he lifted the Jumper slowly off the ground.

             “It is not,” Teal’c answered and Alex looked over her shoulder at him. He was frowning at the viewscreen ahead. “It is a celebratory meeting between the President, the Tok’ra and the temporary Jaffa High Council.”

             “So you might think it’s fun, when it’s really not,” Vala shouted from the rear compartment.

             “Indeed.”

             Evan started dialling before he’d even lowered the Jumper into the Gate Room below, and at once a light in front of Alex started flashing. She couldn’t remember ever having seen it before, but before she could hit the control crystal, it stopped blinking and blended in with the rest of the console like it had never been there. “Huh,” she muttered.

             “What?” Evan let the Jumper hang there, in mid-air, not even having dialled the last symbol.

             “When was the thing checked last?” Alex asked.

             “When we got back, why?”

             “I don’t know.”

             “Something wrong?” Mitchell asked, leaning forward, his eyes fixed on the controls.

             “Jumper Three,” came Johnson’s voice via the comm, “Is there a problem?”

             “There was this flashing light,” Alex said, “Did you pick up anything?”

             “Negative, no unusual readings.”

             She let out a breath and looked over at Evan. The look of concern on his face made her stomach cramp up again. She nodded. “I think we’re good to go,” she said, wondering whether or not she should insist on asking McKay and Zelenka to give the Jumper a once-over. But it hadn’t been flown since the last mission, it’d been checked since and Johnson had just given them the all clear. So, really, they should be okay.

             Evan pulled up the sensor readings and skimmed them briefly. Nothing unusual apparently. He nodded and put in the last symbol. Again, nothing. The wormhole was stable and nothing out of the ordinary. “Okay… just a glitch then. I’ll give Zelenka a bit of a talking-to once we get back,” he muttered.

             “Are we sure everything’s okay?” Mitchell asked and even Vala had gotten up and joined them in the front compartment. Daniel was frowning, but kept quiet.

             “Yes,” Evan said. “Yes, everything appears to be in order. All systems are fully functional. We’re good to go.”

             “Alright then,” Mitchell said, leaning back again. “Let’s do this.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 44

2007

 The Jumper vanished from sight as soon as they stepped off the ramp. The Ancients’ cloaking technology never ceased to amaze her. She’d seen the city vanish under a cloak as she’d stood by a window and watched the cloud of the explosion spread out in the sky above them, darkening the sky and hiding them from view. And then the outer buildings had vanished first. For a second she’d imagined she’d cease seeing her own hands, but it hadn’t happened. Of course it hadn’t.

            Mitchell adjusted the cloak he was wearing to better conceal his vest and the gun he was carrying. “You don’t have the biggest stock of costumes in Atlantis, do you?” He pulled the front of the cloak together, as though nervous somebody might spot some of his uniform underneath, though, of course, nobody would spot the P-90. They’d made sure of that by clasping the cloak shut and by hiding it under a thick woollen shirt and making it easily accessible. But still, clothes were of course a less effective device of hiding something.

            “We’ve never really needed it, no,” Evan agreed. He looked a lot more comfortable, but he was wearing a wide tunic over his vest and a cloak over that and it suited the weather. It was rather cold, and Alex was glad she’d gone for the dress and the heavier coat. “Those uniforms haven’t gotten us into trouble yet.” But they also wouldn’t want to be recognized immediately by the Genii if they were here. Not if they were linked to Ba’al by now. The thought that the web the Goa’uld might have spun here without any of them realizing it might be bigger than anticipated was more than just a little disconcerting. This planet was a world mostly inhabited by farmers. The farmers sold most of their goods to the Genii and if Ba’al had managed to infiltrate the Genii, then he might very quickly become a bigger threat than any of them could possibly like.

            “Yes, well… I’m not complaining.”

            “Not too loudly,” Alex said, wishing, once again, that dresses came with pockets more often. That way she could have at least shoved her hands into them, instead of exposing them to the freezing cold. Already their breath was forming clouds over their heads, and it was as though tiny icicles were starting to fill up her nostrils.

            “Heh,” Mitchell shook his head, then threw a look over his shoulder at where the Jumper was parked between the bushes. They’d discussed for a while who should stay behind for another couple of minutes and who’d enter the village with a head start. But she and Evan were more familiar with the people of the Pegasus galaxy than the others, not that the people in this galaxy differed a whole lot from those of the people of the Milky Way galaxy, but these people weren’t as shut off from each other.

They hadn’t been ruled by different Goa’uld over the course of millennia.

They hadn’t been enemies for generations.

If anything, they were rivals in trade and there weren’t a whole lot of ongoing conflicts or wars between the inhabitants of different worlds. Because the Wraith were the enemy. Because the Wraith were the real threat and civilizations rarely outgrew their fear of them. The Worshippers were a relatively new phenomenon. So was slavery. And over the course of the past few months that threat had grown.

            Alex felt slightly sick remembering the dead body of the geologist and the symbol burned into the skin on the back of her hand. And the churning of her stomach, the cold sweat on the back of her neck, made her wonder, if she really was ready to go after Ba’al. The dreams of him crowding in on her, of that soft, almost promising smile, had been haunting her for months now, and she doubted they’d ever really go away. But until recently she’d been able to deal with it better.

Until recently, she’d been able to fall asleep quickly enough after the usual nightmare. And somehow she never connected being his captive with the loss of Nora on an emotional level.

That connection never appeared in her dreams.

She was never terrified of him ripping her daughter away from him. Not, at least, when she relived the scenario in the cargo ship in her dreams. She wasn’t even sure if she should be concerned about the absence of the connection, of the lack of fear of that particular moment. Because she did remember the pain all too well. The pain of being helpless and defenceless while watching on as her child was taken away. That thing back on Earth had been less personal somehow. It’d been terrifying in an entirely different manner, but somehow it’d been part of her job and nothing compared to the things other members of SG-teams had had to go through in the past ten years. She hadn’t been killed and that was something to be happy about.

What had happened on Larsa was completely different. Maybe because it’d most likely been another Ba’al. Maybe because she’d considered herself as no longer a member of the SGC. She and Evan had been different people then. In a way they’d been newly-weds and a long-married couple at the same time. They’d lived in a different place and in many ways in another time. They’d been the same people they were now, too, but back then the constant fear, hidden beneath a thin veil of domesticity had been different. It had changed them. It had brought about their daughter. And their encounter with Ba’al had been far more personal than the events on Earth. Maybe, if Alex ever found the time, she’d find it in herself to talk things over with the new on-base shrink.

Maybe.

If things got worse.

“Sheppard is kind of tense at the moment, huh?” Mitchell asked, barging in on Alex’s gloomy thoughts. Mitchell was looking at her, not Evan. Talking to him about his superior officer would’ve been completely inappropriate. This was just plain old gossip, which took Alex by surprise. She’d never thought of Mitchell as the gossipy type. But then again, she’d never thought of Mitchell as the kind of guy who’d pretend to be a master carpenter and then proceed to punch a hole in her roof.

“There’s always a lot going on,” she said evasively, making it a point not to look at Evan. Their own gossip about Sheppard and Teyla had better remain amongst themselves.

“Huh…” Mitchell said and shrugged. “Just saying. He seemed eager to come with us.”

“Of course he is,” Evan said laughing. “He’s not too fond of missions that are just concerned with research.” He left out the fact that Sheppard usually only volunteered to go on missions like that if they might hold the promise of the discovery of some new kind of weapon or involved a brilliant and beautiful scientist.

“I get that,” Mitchell said, throwing a sheepish grin at Alex. “No offence.”

“None taken. I heard you don’t usually like those kinds of missions yourself.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I like hanging around sometimes, but especially on archaeological expeditions there’s just too much of that sometimes, and it can get kind of boring if the fate of the galaxy isn’t hanging in the balance.”

“I never thought of you as the kind of person who liked playing the hero,” Evan said, and, as he caught Mitchell’s gaze, quickly added, “Sir.” He’d never consider an archaeological mission a mission to spend lazily. He was usually in the thick of things, helping her and other scientists wherever he could and, and that was something only they knew, the missions where they often snuck off together to be alone. Not that they went on missions together often, but these kinds of missions happened more and more frequently, and Alex surely wasn’t going to complain. Evan had proven himself to be a valuable asset on archaeological digs, and Carter recognized that and sent him along more often than not these days.

“Guess I got my head up in the clouds sometimes. Guess that happens when you get to join the frontline team.”

“Heh,” Alex said, doubting very much that Mitchell had ever not been boastful. Evan had told her that Mitchell and he must have been at the Academy at the same time, but since there were hundreds of new recruits every year, they can’t have met that often. But then again, both he and Mitchell had gone through flight training, which made it all the more likely that they’d trained together at some point. “Joining the Stargate Program would suggest a kind of hero complex, period.”

“Is that why you joined up?” Evan prompted, raising an eyebrow at her. “Bored of all the digging through dusty archives, so you thought you’d give some actual work a try?”

In response, she bumped against his shoulder and grinned. “Maybe. And maybe I was also tired of all the nerds ignoring me, so I thought I’d give military men a try.”

“Oh, come on!” Mitchell exclaimed, clapping his hands over his ears. “Too much lovey-dovey talk, and I swear I’m sending you guys back to the Jumper!”

“Yes, Sir,” Evan laughed. “Sorry.”

Mitchell grunted, but didn’t comment any further. They were close to the village now, the outskirts of which were hugging the forest behind it, providing the villagers with cover in case the Wraith showed up. The Gate itself was more or less an hour on foot away from the village, which meant that, should the Gate open right now and Darts shoot through the event horizon, the villagers would have five whole minutes to take refuge in the trees.  The people in the Milky Way often lived a lot closer to the Gate, given that most of the settlements there had been established by the Goa’uld in the first place and that hiding from their oppressors wasn’t as vital as it was for the people of Pegasus.

The half-timbered houses had been built so that there was a sort of crescent shaped marketplace left out to the open, facing the direction in which the Gate was located, welcoming travellers, as well as leaving open some space from which an activation could be spotted easily. At least that assumption was the only one she could draw if she refused to believe that these people too were Wraith Worshippers, keen on welcoming potential trading partners as well as the Wraith.

And that was a possibility she had to dismiss if she didn’t want to start distrusting every new culture they encountered. She was well aware that Evan was not dismissing that possibility, and that neither was Mitchell, which meant that she could at least hope to establish a good relationship with these people, while the others kept their eyes and ears wide open for any signs of danger. Not that they were wrong. After all, Ba’al’s symbol had been spotted in this very place by Teldy not two weeks before. True enough, she’d spotted it on a bracelet worn by someone in the local tavern, and not on a banner strung high above the marketplace, but still. Teldy had reported back straight away, leaving this place rather unceremoniously.

 

Every breath she took stung as she did her best in keeping up with him. Out here in the icy cold, it was even harder to do so, but she knew she must at least try.

            Evan was taking the lead, jumping over fallen logs in full gear as though it were nothing. And it made sense. She had to tell herself that over and over again. She needed to be as physically fit as the rest of her team if she wanted to stay alive.

            Only now she felt like she had better quit. Was this really worth it?

            She gritted her teeth and forced her legs to move faster. To get them to help her catch up with him. And he must already be taking pity on her.

            One week.

            That was how long it had been since she’d joined the Stargate Program. One week since she’d met Evan again, and she had to admit, she might already have given up, had it not been for him and their past. Because she wanted to keep up. She wanted to prove that she was worth the effort. If not the effort of staying with her, then at least the effort of training her. Of getting her ready, properly ready. And this was part of it. He raised his fist, ordering her to stop with the signal he’d taught her a few days ago. This wasn’t their first trek through the icy forest around the base underneath Cheyenne Mountain.

            He didn’t look at her, just ordered her to crouch down and stay in position.

            She kept her eyes fixed on him. On the next move he might make, on the next order he might give. Not on the birthmark behind his right ear. Not on the place she’d liked to kiss. Once. Before it all had gone dissolved into pain and longing.

            Evan let out a long breath and turned to face her, his eyes distant, not suggesting any kind of intimacy. He’d become quiet the master at this. At pretending there had never been anything between them. He nodded curtly.

            “You okay?” He didn’t ask as her former boyfriend. Not as the man who’d held her in his arms countless times. Not as the lover who had asked the same question a million times when she lay shivering in his arms. And just for a fraction of a second she saw a flicker of recognition in his eyes. As he realized the same thing she did.

            “Yep,” she breathed, ordering her lungs to stop aching. To no avail.

            He nodded and got up, Alex following suit. “It’ll get easier.” He said it like a promise. Not a prediction of her adjusting to this strenuous work-out regime.

            Her hands were cold, but she didn’t put them in her pockets, refusing to show any sign of weakness. Not in front of him. Not when one look of disapproval from him could make her feel like the stupidest person on Earth. He could do that so easily, and Alex was sure he didn’t even mean to do it. It just happened. Because she should never have let him go. She should never have sent him away on that rainy day.

            “Let’s head back. You have a briefing with Doctor Jackson in an hour, right?”

            “I suppose,” she looked down at her watch. He was right. They’d only been at it for half an hour, but she felt like it’d been at least two. Time seemed to like doing that when he was around these days. Just like her stomach seemed to love cramping up, and just like her thighs seemed to remember the touch of his lips when his eyes lost that icy touch and looked at her that way again. But it’d become rarer. After only a few days of training, he’d become more professional and more distant. She didn’t know what she hated more. Being friends seemed impossible. “Yes,” she cleared her throat. “Let’s go.”

            “I guess it’s going to start snowing in a few minutes anyway.”

 

“Any idea what we’re here to sell?” Mitchell whispered. The marketplace was deserted, which wasn’t a big surprise given that the temperatures were well below freezing, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t encounter anyone once they entered the tavern or started knocking on doors.

            “You never thought of a cover story before we got on the Jumper?” Alex asked with a frown.

            “Well, no? Not in detail?”

            “Cam, that’s-“

            “How about salt? We’re looking to sell salt?” Evan interjected before Alex had a chance to fly off the handle.

            Mitchell raised a questioning eyebrow at Evan. “Salt,” he stated.

            “Not everybody has all the salt they need, right? It’s not exactly that you can come by easily and-” Evan said, but Mitchell interrupted him. Too bad. Evan was just starting to impress Alex again.

            “I believe you… so we’re looking to sell salt in exchange for… fresh fruit? Vegetables? We need new trading partners after the old ones were purged by the Replicators.”

            “Fine,” Mitchell sighed. He was the first to set foot on the paved marketplace. “The tavern should be close by, right?”

            “They usually are,” Alex said. And usually the tavern was the first point of interest they visited on a new world, but only now did she realize that things around here were rather quiet. At least they were quieter than they should be, even in a village where everybody was staying inside due to the freezing temperatures.

            “No smoke coming from the chimneys,” Evan said quietly, taking another couple of steps towards the buildings. They all had signs hanging over their doors, signs without any letters, but the symbols already suggested that they were of great importance and the once instantly recognisable was the tankard. The tavern. The shutters were closed, though, and Evan was right: the chimneys appeared to be cold. No smoke, no tell-tale aroma of burnt wood in the air. The only sound reaching their ears was the whistling of the wind in the trees behind, and the occasional clucking of fowl.

            Mitchell reached for the radio hidden beneath his cloak, just as the first flakes of snow started softly falling to the ground. And then Daniel’s voice came from the radios they were all carrying. “Guys- did you see that the Gate is gone?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 45

2007

She’d never been more desperate to hold on to him. He’d been with her for a whole week. One week in which they’d done little but stay in bed, grab some food and then return straight to bed. And talking. They’d done that, too. A lot of it. About her work. About his new colleagues. About his family. About what an idiot her brother was.

             It was harder than before, because talking about the really important things would only remind them that he’d have to go back to Washington soon and that her next research trip would most definitely coincide with the next time he got to go on leave.

             And hard just wasn’t what had defined their relationship from the very beginning. It was the complete opposite. Things between them had moved fluidly, maybe too much so. Yes, their first night together had been awkward, but it’d also felt right. Just like that kiss on the bridge had felt right. And so did this, and yet she knew that this couldn’t last forever and that was exactly what made talking about the real issue next to impossible.

             His lips were on her neck, his breath coming in gasps as she moved on top of him and clinging to his shoulders as she concentrated on the feeling of his breath against her skin, of him filling her, of his thumb massaging her just right. She buried her hands in his hair, wishing she could cling to him forever, and knowing that she couldn’t. He’d be leaving her in an hour or so and the thought of waiting for the moment when she could hold him again, made it next to impossible to breathe.

             She came with a half choked sob and his arms held her so tight she couldn’t move. He let out a long, shaky breath and the hot drops running down her chest were bound to be his tears. She quickly wiped her own face before he could see hers.

That wouldn’t do.

             “Are you okay?” she asked hoarsely, but he wouldn’t let go. He wouldn’t allow her to see his face. Just like she wouldn’t allow him to see hers.

             “Yeah,” he croaked, his arms tightening around her torso even further.

             Breathe, she told herself. They didn’t have long now and she wanted to enjoy this while it lasted. Their e-mail contact had become more sporadic. Not because they didn’t want to talk to each other, but because… because it seemed senseless to discuss the same things over and over again. To tell each other how terrible being apart like this was, even when they were both in the same country with only two hundred and fifty miles between them. That was nothing! And yet…

             His fingertips slid down her spine before he released her and she climbed off him to lie down next to him.

             “Are you?”

             Alex nodded, slipping her arms around him now. “Mostly.” Her eyes drifted to the desk standing in the corner of her bedroom, at the books stashed and forgotten there, reminding her of the work she’d have to catch up on once he left.

             “Alex?”

             She sighed. “Evan?”

             “I love you.”

             She hated how these words stung.

 

“What do you mean the Gate is gone?!” Mitchell shouted into the radio as Alex spun on her heel to look in the direction where the Gate was… or rather, where it should have been.

             “What the-“ she gasped with a sinking feeling.

             “No, no, no! Not again! Jackson!” Mitchell shouted, short of stomping his foot on the frozen ground.

             “I didn’t do it!”

             “Lorne, what the hell, didn’t you do a scan?”

             “No, we did,” he said, eyes narrowed and reaching out for Alex, touching her elbow and pulling her closer. They’d scanned for enemy ships. Not for life signs. That might have tipped them off. And the Gate… “We should get back to the Jumper…” Evan added.

             “The jerk took the Gate!” Mitchell hissed. Ba’al had done it before, tried to gather as many Gates as possible, trying to establish a Gate network of his own. And by the looks of it, he was doing it again.

             “If he can beam the Gate off the planet, he can beam us off the planet,” Evan said, his grip around her arm tightening. “We should go.” He tucked at her arm. And he wasn’t wrong.

 

He slipped his shirt on last. Alex was already fully dressed and leaning against the door frame. She wasn’t looking at him and he hated that she was avoiding his gaze. It made him anxious. It told him that he was about to crash land without the chance of survival. Well, maybe that picture was a bit too drastic, but that was how he felt.

             “I should go, the taxi’ll be there in a few minutes.”

             Alex nodded, not offering to come downstairs with him. Her eyes moved over to her desk again and that familiar sting of jealousy made him ball his hands into fists. It was just useless, wasn’t it? He could never compete with that. With her work… and hell, he’d told her not to make him a priority last year. This was his fault.

             He shoved his hand into his pocket, clasping the ring.

             She took a deep breath. “This is too hard.”

             “This…” he repeated tonelessly. The edges of the diamond were digging into his flesh. Too late. He should’ve just done it sooner. Half a year ago. A year ago. Who gave a damn, really. “Us?”

             Alex nodded, finally raising her gaze to look at him. “I can’t do this anymore.” She was talking so quietly he could barely hear her. But he understood. He understood it all too well. It wasn’t as though the thought hadn’t crossed his mind. He’d thought the exact same thing and every time the pain those words had popped up in his mind, he’d felt as though a piece of his soul was being blown apart.

             By now, hearing the words coming from her lips, he felt numb. Numb to the sound. Numb to the pain.

             He nodded, wishing for her to cry. To say she didn’t mean it.

             But this was right. The right thing to do.

 

They were running, her hand clasped in his.

             It was harder to run this way, but he wouldn’t let go. Never again! Not with the threat of Ba’al hanging over them. Literally. He wouldn’t get a chance to go looking for her again. Finding her that one time had been a stroke of luck.

             They were lucky to be alive right now.

             She was holding on to him, so tightly, his fingers were hurting and by the time they reached the Jumper, her skin was so sweaty he almost feared her hand slipping out of his. But the Jumper was cloaked. They couldn’t be traced once they were safely past the cloak.

             Vala, Jackson and Teal’c were already waiting for them, not that there’d been anything they could have done. None of them had the ATA gene. And they hadn’t thought that they might need the Jumper as back-up, or else either he or Alex would’ve stayed behind to fly it. But no… no, they wouldn’t have. He wouldn’t let Alex out of his sight. Not if there was even the slightest chance of them getting into contact with Ba’al or one of his followers.

             “We couldn’t activate the sensors,” Vala said, helpful as ever.

             Even pushed past them without a word and only when they were in the front compartment, did he let go of Alex’s hand. The instruments came to life as soon as they sat down and he pulled up the tactical display. There was a ship in orbit, true enough, but it was departing, and fast. Why hadn’t they seen it there before? He always checked the sensors for ships lurking in orbit.

             “It is not a mothership,” Teal’c said, leaning over the pilot’s seat and looking at the readouts. And he was right. The ship was lacking the typical pyramid shape. And yet… Ba’al’s sign had been spotted here, Ba’al had stolen Gates before…

             “No kidding,” Mitchell said. “Looks like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

             “Never seen an Ancient warship, then?” Evan asked, starting the engines and closing the rear hatch. But still it wasn’t like what they could make out from the sensor readings was completely reliable. Whatever this ship was, the shape wasn’t entirely familiar and the sensors didn’t recognize it.

             “What do you think you’re doing?” Mitchell’s hand landed on his shoulder. “You’re not taking off, are you?”

             “Yes, I am.” Evan shook his head. “We have to move this thing at least. If the ship up ahead picked up our signatures, they’ll know where we are right now!” And sure enough, only a fraction of a second after the Jumper left the ground, he picked up an energy build-up in the ship in orbit and next moment the place where the Jumper had just been was nothing but charred earth.

             “Can they track us?”

             “No.” Evan shook his head, swerved the Jumper to the right and flew it in a curve up into the grey sky. Snowflakes hit the viewscreen before they broke into the cloud cover, and for once Evan was grateful for the powerful inertial dampeners. In about two seconds their location would be revealed by them breaking through the cloud cover again, but they couldn’t stay in here forever.

             “That’s no Ancient warship,” Mitchell said, looking at the sensor again. “I saw the schematics.”
             “It has some similarities, though,” Jackson said. “I mean-“

             “Would you guys at the back please sit down!” Evan interrupted him, wrenching the stick to the right before going up again, avoiding an energy blast by mere inches.

             “He’s not wrong,” Alex said calmly. And there it was. The ship that had attacked them. And Evan had to agree. The ship had a similar shape to the Aurora-class battleships they’d encountered, though there were some definite similarities to other ships they’d come across. The overall shape was definitely Ancient, Evan thought, as the Jumper seamlessly exited the outer atmosphere.

By now they were only about thirty kilometres away from the thing. “I am certain the ship is of Goa’uld design,” Teal’c said, his voice deeper than usual and as Evan turned around in his seat to look at him, he found the Jaffa glaring at the ship ahead, which still fired the occasional shot at the planet below.

“Yes, well, the Ancients didn’t fancy that much gold on their ships, did they?” Vala stood behind Alex now. Why was everybody ignoring his orders to stay put?!

The shape was Ancient, yes, but the style of the outer hull, the overdone display of golden metal, suggested Goa’uld. And there was something else. The hangars on either side of the ship looked eerily familiar, allowing bigger ships than just Deathgliders to fly inside.

“Those were plasma beam weapons, weren’t they?” he asked, his throat dry.

“Looked like it,” Mitchell agreed. The weapons system had been given to the Tau’ri by the Asgard and the most recent designs of their BC-304’s had been stolen by Ba’al’s organization that very summer.

“They’re powering up the hyperdrive,” Alex said hoarsely. And, sure enough, next second the ship was gone. And with it, the Stargate.            

 

It was too hard.

Too painful.

And he’d known this would happen.

Evan only wished he’d held on to her a bit longer just now. That he’d held her close and asked her to marry him after all. Then, maybe, she wouldn’t have said what they both knew to be true.

“I agree,” he said, his voice threatening to break. If she wanted to end this, then he wouldn’t beg her to reconsider. He couldn’t. Because it was terrible to miss her. To constantly wish for her to be nearby. “I- I have to go.” He didn’t tell her he was sorry. He didn’t hug her one last time. All he could do was to force himself to look at her, to look her in the eye and nod. “We- I’m not going to write to you anymore then.” Because she’d reply.

Because it’d remind him too much of what he’d lost.

And he couldn’t do that.

If he left right now, without her asking him to reconsider, to stay, then that would be it. He’d try to forget her. And he couldn’t do that if they stayed in contact.

But Alex nodded.

A few minutes ago, she’d clung to him.

Half an hour ago, she’d kissed him.

And now, only a few words later, she’d set up a wall around her. A wall which made it impossible for him to even reach out to her.

Evan took a steadying breath to fight back the tears, doing his best to look at that clever, beautiful, witty, charming, sexy, genius woman in front of him like she was just someone he’d met on the street. Nobody special. And he failed. “Take care, will you?”

“Watch out for yourself.”

He couldn’t promise that. And he wouldn’t. There wasn’t a whole lot for him to loose, was there? He just cleared his throat and picked up his duffle bag. I love you, he thought. Don’t let me go like this. Ask me to stay. Please, please don’t let me walk through that door.

“I-“ she began and he raised his eyes once more to look at her. “I’ll miss you.”

That was it?

That was all?!

He nodded. His voice couldn’t be trusted anymore. He slung the bag over his shoulder and went through the door without looking back at those blue eyes surrounded by a few freckles.

 

Alex wasn’t staring at the emptiness of space ahead. Her eyes were fixed on him. She looked pale. Pale and tired. Like she’d almost expected something like this might happen.

             Hadn’t it happened before?

             “Let’s get down to the planet,” Mitchell said. “If we don’t check in, they’ll send the Daedalus.

             It was true. They weren’t stranded like they had been on Larsa. There’d been no attack to report back to their main base of operations. There’d be nobody declaring them Missing in Action.

             A smile was starting to play around Alex’s lips. A smile which Evan couldn’t quite understand. She was still a mystery to him sometimes.

             With a groan, she leaned back and buried her face in her hands. “There were still chickens down there, weren’t there?” she groaned and Evan laughed despite himself, remembering her distaste for poultry since their exile.

             “Don’t worry,” he said, “We still have other rations.”

Chapter Text

2007

“Should we go see if we can find any more food?” Evan asked, brushing a hand through his hair and making it look even more messy. They’d just been inside the Jumper to check the sensors like they did three times a day. Still nothing.

             “Not a whole lot left,” Alex said, wishing for gloves rather than more flour or additional rations. If anything, it’d become a hell of a lot colder down here.

             “Mitchell already suggested we set up a hunting party.”

             “Really?” Alex scoffed. “You’re up for that?” Evan certainly wasn’t the kind of guy who liked hunting, but he’d do it. If not to bring something on the table, then to get Mitchell into a better mood.

             “Sure… maybe… after we deal with the chickens here.”

             “I’m almost sure they’re only good for soup.”

             “Urgh…”

When they’d left Atlantis, the Daedalus had still been two weeks away from the Pegasus Galaxy and the Apollo had only just arrived on Earth for maintenance. Not a good outlook. But it had given them plenty of time to take a proper look at the village. Maybe too much of that.

             After a day, Alex knew every house from the inside.

             After two days, they’d gathered all the supplies they might need inside the tavern.

             After three days, they stopped all sleeping in the bar room and they moved into the smaller guest rooms.

             After five days, Evan started challenging Mitchell for runs into the forest to keep exercising.

             After about a week, Mitchell seemed on the brink of killing someone. And he wasn’t the only one.

             When Alex and Evan entered the tavern through the main entrance, the sound of something smashing broke the silence, but Daniel didn’t even turn around to look at Vala. She’d broken one of the stoneware mugs and the way she stared at the dozens of shards littering the floor made Alex think that she was just about ready to start throwing over a couple of chairs as well. For the first couple of days Vala had been downright chatty, but being stranded here was getting to them all. Already the rations they’d brought had as good as run out and they were living of bread baked from left-over flour and water and the dried fruit and vegetables they’d managed to salvage . On top of that, the people of this village had taken their most valuable things with them to the new world. Alex doubted Ba’al had taken them all with him on his ship. It was highly unlikely he’d transport cattle on his brand new battle cruiser, and the people he’d taken from here had, after all, taken everything they could with them. The few things that remained behind were items of furniture that were too big and heavy to carry easily, some broken things and, of course those damn chickens. Not a lot of them, granted, but chickens nonetheless.

             “I’m so bored!” Vala complained, making Daniel roll his eyes.

“Yes, well, I’m sorry.” Daniel was bent low over a book Mitchell had found three days before. By the looks of it, it was a copy of the most recent history of this village. Something which the people here had left behind, and Daniel had spent most of the last few days deciphering the writing. Alex would’ve helped him more than just step in occasionally, but there was only one book to look at, so she’d only been able to pitch in every once in a while.

“Urgh!” Vala groaned. The day had only just begun, and to find the expedition members already at each other’s throats didn’t bode too well. Alex and Evan exchanged a glance.

“Vala, I’m going to go look for some more food. Care to join me?” Alex asked, knowing full well that Evan wasn’t too fond of Vala. The way she’d hit on him previous times made him uncomfortable, even though he knew of course, that that was exactly the reason why Vala was doing it.

Vala wiped her hands on her trousers and nodded. “Lead the way.”

Standing by the door, Alex saw Vala brush her hand over Daniel’s shoulder. Casually. Like she didn’t even realize she was doing it. Alex stood to the side to let Vala through, threw a grin at Evan and followed the other woman outside.

Mitchell had given up sitting by the fireside long ago. By now he was busy chopping more firewood than they could ever use up. The Jumper had been landed in a nearby alley. Staying inside it and using up energy was no option. They might need the ship again, after all. A cracking sound to their right drew their attention. Mitchell freed his axe and looked up when Vala and Alex walked past him. “You going out again?”

“Need anything?” Vala asked. If Mitchell was wood chopping, then they’d need to find something else for Vala to do. Who knew, maybe they’d find something creative when they looked through the nearby houses again? Vala could take up pottery, Alex mused with a barely hidden grin.

“Yeah, bring me some macaroons, will you?”

“Will do,” Alex shouted back, pulling Vala with her. An agitated Vala was bad enough. If she started trying to take the axe from Mitchell to do the wood chopping in his place, they’d have to deal with an angry Mitchell as well. Teal’c had taken to spending more time in one of the countless rooms of the inn to Kelno’reem, though Alex doubted the Jaffe did actually spend all of his time in meditation. Somehow she got the sense that he was a bit tired of being stranded with his team.

“Hey, what are we looking for?” Vala asked. “We collected everything edible when we got here, didn’t we?”

“Yes, well…” Alex said, turning a corner and walking down a narrow alley leading to the houses closest to the forest. “I guess so, but it’s not like we should eat it all. Who knows how long we’ll be here.”

“Don’t be so optimistic, please!”

Alex couldn’t help but grin. She’d always liked Vala. “How are you doing anyway?”

“Me?”

“Sure. You and Daniel obviously hit it off, so that’s something, but what else?”

Vala scoffed. “So we’re entering the stage of personal conversation, just because we’re stranded here?”

“Yes?” Alex looked at her. Was Vala angry? Alex couldn’t quite tell. “If that’s okay?” If she was honest, she had no idea what to talk about with Vala. The woman was an enigma most days.

“No… no, it’s fine.” Vala took a deep breath and shrugged. “If we have anything, it’s  time.”

“We do have that, yes.”

“Your brother…” Vala began as they turned right and headed directly for one of the smallest houses. In general the buildings around here weren’t anything special at all. They were more or less of the same style which they’d encountered several times. The roofs were thatched with wooden shingles this time, the walls constructed of timber and the usual clay and straw mix. The alley within the village were narrow, nothing was paved, and the occasional chicken crossed their way. “Is he still hitting on everything that moves?”

“Did he hit on you?” Alex asked, surprised. The one time Vala and Adam had met, Adam must have already been going out with his wife.

“Well, I’m not saying he didn’t try…” she trailed off and made a vague gesture, making Alex laugh out loud.

“No, no I guess he’s happily married. Well, I know he’s married. I haven’t talked to him in a while… for obvious reasons.”

“He’s an idiot?”

“I’m in another galaxy.”

“Ah, well, that makes sense.” Vala’s blue eyes sparkled mischievously as she pushed open one of the doors of the building. They’d been in here too. Alex and Evan had searched this place, ignoring the eerie feeling of déjà-vu as they searched the small room for things they might use. There had been no pots or pans to be salvaged, no additional clothes to brace them against the cold winter nights, but there’d been food. A little bit of flour, some salt.

Evan had laughed when he’d seen it.

And there’d been the sacks of dried grain. At some point they must have gotten wet, which meant they were spoiled and that’s why they’d been left behind, but they’d been opened. A sign of pity taken on those chickens which the family who had lived here didn’t take along. They must be old. Too old to still be laying enough eggs, and by the looks of it, the people of this planet didn’t have a whole lot of time to pack up and leave, or else they might have prepared the meat of the chickens to take them along. As it was, the sacks of grain were highly attractive to the chickens of the neighbourhood and Alex suppressed a shudder as she thought of the mice and rats the cut-open sacks must be attracting.

“There are some blankets here,” Vala said, looking under the bed, but Alex shook her head.

“Guess we should stick with our own for now. And it’s not that cold at the inn, is it?”

Vala shrugged and laughed. “Not in our room. Yours?”

“Oh, well.” Alex returned Vala’s grin, her heart lighter than it should be right now. They were stuck here, unable to defend themselves properly, and the only line of defence they had against Ba’al returning was their Jumper. But she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t as though there was no way off this rock, or as though they were under constant threat.

“How did you two meet anyway?” Vala asked, sitting down on the bed now, still avoiding the question Alex had posed first, while Alex opened the door leading from the small main room into the narrow stable behind it. The smell was bad. Worse than Alex would’ve expected. The people who’d lived here hadn’t cleaned up the dirty straw and by now the scent of what they’d left behind was making her stomach turn.

Retching she turned away and closed the door again. Not that it helped much. It was as though the smell of rot and feces had burnt itself into her nostrils. Clamping a hand over her mouth, she shook her head.

“What are you looking for in there?”

“Could you get me one of the chickens? I saw two of them. Maybe get them both, then let’s get out of here.” Alex pushed open the front  door again and the icy air was the best treat she’d had all day. But still she could feel the burning sensation in her nose and the urge to vomit.

“Are you okay?” Vala sounded concerned.

“I’m fine.” Breathing hard, she leaned against the outer wall, eyes fixed up at the sky. What the hell? Before that sort of smell hadn’t made her feel this sick. Why now?

But Vala didn’t go back into the stable. She stood next to Alex, her blue eyes fixed on her face. “You’re really pale.”

Alex nodded. She felt it. “I bet,” she breathed and wiped her mouth. At least her stomach was starting to settle again. At least she hadn’t thrown up. Who cared what she looked like. “Sorry,” Alex said, gulping down some more of the brilliantly clean air and nodding.

“Nothing to apologize for.” But Vala was still frowning, a look of deepest concern on her face.

Alex sighed and nodded. “Okay… let’s get that chicken.”

 

The feathers were coming off easily enough and, as weird as it sounded, Alex was almost grateful that the body of the animal was still more or less warm. Sitting outside, a chicken on her lap and ripping off its feathers, would have been tortuous in the cold winter air.

             “Daniel’s a nice guy,” Vala was saying as she ripped the feathers off her own chicken. She was almost as quick as Alex was, and Alex wondered when Vala had learned to pluck feathers off fowl. Another piece of the riddle that was Vala. “And that’s kind of scary.”

             “How so?” Alex asked, flipping the chicken. They were sitting on the pile of firewood Mitchell had made before going for another run with Evan. Daniel was still inside, pouring over the book. Whether he was done deciphering it, or was just grateful for the pretence so he didn’t have to get their dinner ready, Alex couldn’t quite say “Nice isn’t scary.”

             “What’s scary is that I never dated a nice guy. Not really. Not without me having ulterior motives to screw him over.” Vala shrugged. “We haven’t even talked about getting married yet.”

             “And that’s unusual for you?” Somehow Alex didn’t even remotely feel the urge to laugh. The way Vala was staring at her chicken, throwing feathers to the ground instead of just letting them fall, told her that Vala was dead serious.

             “Well, yes! Like I said, I have no intention of screwing him over.” Vala’s eyes widened and she wasn’t even looking at Alex anymore. As though she was wondering what other thing she could do to scare him away without meaning to.

             “Good for you,” Alex said, nodding and clearing her throat. “He’s not just a nice guy. He’s a great guy. And the very fact that he’s decided to be in a relationship with you means a lot. He trusts you. Not that he doesn’t trust easily, but I doubt it’s easy for him to trust someone in a romantic way.”

             Vala stopped and Alex felt the other woman’s gaze on her. Shaking her head, Alex kept ripping off feathers. Why wasn’t this making her sick? What the devil was wrong with her? “I know he thought about Sha’re for a very, very long time. I somehow never thought he’d meet someone else.”

             “Did you know her?”

             Shaking her head, Alex finally looked up. “No. No, I joined the SGC long after she died. But we talked about her once… it was a really strange day. A couple of months after Nora died.” Alex swallowed hard. “I-“ she cleared her throat. “I can’t cry in front of Evan. Never could, really, but, well, Daniel found me in my office as I was just bawling my eyes out. And- well…”

             Vala raised her eyebrows significantly and Alex almost felt like slapping her with the dead chicken.

             “No!” Alex finally managed a laugh and shook her head. “Well- he started crying too. I guess it wasn’t just sympathy. It was more like he remembered exactly what it was to lose someone, and hell, he’s lost practically everyone… but Sha’re, that really hit him hard. And he said, and this stays between us, he said he’d never love someone else.” Alex bit her lip and looked down at the pale, dead thing in her lap. It’d been easy to snap it’s neck. Too easy? Like it’d been too easy to fall for that dream of having a baby back on Larsa? The connection wasn’t quite there, but it was. In the end, life was too fragile and love made it all that much harder to bear. And yet, Daniel still decided to give it a go. Just like she and Evan had tried to do just that. “He was kind of convincing in his argument.” Alex brushed the back of her hand over her eyes and shook her head. “And then he met you.” She shrugged. “And, I mean, I wasn’t there when you first showed up, but when I saw you and him together for the first time… well… it gave me hope.” Hope that loss didn’t mean you could never love again. And Daniel had tried not to fall for her. He must have. Vala was so very different from the woman Sha’re must have been, and yet, she was just the person Daniel needed in his life.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 47

2007

Alex couldn’t stay in the room as the soup was cooking over the fire. She’d hated the smell of chicken since their days on Larsa and the taste would be yet another challenge for her. Evan knew that. He just wished they had found something else to eat, but then again he doubted any one of them would be up to killing and gutting a deer or a deer-like creature, should they come across it in the forest. Well, maybe Vala could do it. If anyone could it was probably her.

             Mitchell was stirring the soup, adding more salt than was strictly necessary and, to Evan’s liking, not enough of the half-frozen greens they’d found in the forest. Well, who needed flavour when you could have salt, right?

             Sitting in the corner, still intently studying the book, was Jackson.  Teal’c and Vala had gone outside, making sure that nobody was approaching their position. It was a useless, time consuming exercise, but it brought a certain routine to their day, which made the stay here a bit more bearable. Not that being stuck here was completely bad, it was just that neither one of them had signed up for a holiday, and while they were stuck here, Ba’al could already have established his own Gate Network.

             Evan followed Alex with his eyes as she rushed up the stairs to hide in their room then he looked at Jackson again. “Found anything good yet?”

             The first reaction from Jackson was a grunt. He’d cleared the table in the corner by the window days ago, but by now it was again littered with papers and discarded and broken pencils. How could someone make such a mess without even having to rely on any reference books? The battery on Alex’s tablet had died early on and without any way for them to recharge it, Jackson only had his memory and his notes to decipher the books.

             “Alex had a good idea yesterday,” Jackson said, rubbing his eyes. “I guess that was it. These are phonemes, but there aren’t any vowels depicted in the letters themselves. You have to fill in the blanks yourself. The rest of the writing is pretty straightforward and not so hard to understand.”

             “Like Ancient Hebrew?”

             Jackson’s head snapped up and Evan wasn’t sure if he should be insulted.

“The thing with the vowels?”

 Behind the glasses, Jackson’s eyes narrowed and Evan could almost hear the thoughts racing in his head. And then Jackson smiled and he nodded. “I shouldn’t be that surprised, I guess.”

             “My wife studies religions,” Evan said. “You pick up a thing or two.”

             “You picked up more than Jack ever did in eight years stuck with me on a team.”

             “I’m sorry to say I never once picked up that book about learning Ancient that you and your team of linguists wrote.”

             Jackson shrugged, pushed up his glasses and looked back down at the book. “Well, at least the scientists on Atlantis use it, and they use it a lot. They’re nearly all proficient.”

             With a scoff, Evan sat down next to him. “They study that stuff,” he said, “We’re just their lackeys.”

             Jackson threw back his head and laughed. Not like he was laughing at him and yet…

             “What?!” Evan grinned as Mitchell groaned behind him.

             “He thinks you’re weird, Lorne.”

             “Not really,” Jackson said, rubbing his temple. “If Sam wasn’t a scientist, I’d agree, but I never heard a military man describe himself as a lackey.”

             “Things are a bit different at the SGC, I know.” Not that the scientists at the base underneath Cheyenne Mountain were any less valued than the ones on Atlantis, it was just that there were simply more scientists than military personnel in the city of the Ancients, and that tipped the balance in their favour. Whereas the Stargate Program had started more or less as a means to discover technology that could help defend Earth against the Goa’uld, the Atlantis expedition had set out primarily as a team of researchers aiming to discover as much as possible about the Ancients. The basic idea was that the military aspect was present, but it wasn’t as prominent there, except for defensive and humanitarian purposes. And sometimes Evan wondered why Alex appeared to be happier working at the SGC than on Atlantis.

             “Well, the leadership there is strictly military. But, as you know, us weirdos have always been more than welcome there.” Jackson shrugged. “Mitchell, how is that soup coming?”

             “Shut up and let me work!”

             Evan turned around in his seat to look at the Colonel. He was bent low over the pot and leading a wooden spoon to his lips. He’d rarely seen Mitchell that wound up. Clearly, sitting around was getting to him and Evan was almost sure that getting him to go out for a run once a day wasn’t going to be enough for long.

             Jackson raised his eyebrows and then turned to face Evan again. “What were you asking?”

             “Just wondering what you’ve found out.” He hadn’t brought a book with him on this mission, of course he hadn’t. They’d only been supposed to remain here for a day at most, but by now he too was getting bored. There just weren’t enough chores to be done.

             Jackson shrugged again. “Well, this book was left behind by the town historian, though, of course, she couldn’t be sure anybody would ever come here. But, as you know, humans are always keen to leave something behind. Just in case.”

             “The Ancients had a different approach there,” Mitchell commented from the back. “They just left stuff behind, period.”

             “He’s not wrong,” Evan said, pulling the book closer. There, on the last page, was the symbol of Ba’al and right underneath some more writing he couldn’t decipher.

             “Anyway,” Jackson shook his head. “The writer going by the name of Leiana tells of a new group of travellers coming here. This planet was indeed famous for farming and as a small trading outpost, which, I guess, is why the market place is located where it is.”

             Evan nodded. Nothing new there. He just wondered why Alex wasn’t here to help Jackson. Why she wasn’t sitting right there next to them, chipping in.

“The Genii were their main trading partner, of course.”

             “Yes, we knew that,” Evan said and looked up when he heard the creaking of a door and then steps on the balustrade above. There she was. Pale and sickly looking, but there nonetheless. “Are you okay?”

             Alex shrugged and as she leaned over the balustrade, her hair fell over her shoulders. When had she become so thin? How hadn’t he noticed it before? “Sure,” she said. “Just a bit of a dizzy spell.”

             “Are the headaches gone?” Jackson asked, sounding just as concerned as Evan felt. So that was why she wasn’t helping him. Well, that and the smell that was making her feel slightly off.

             “Mostly.” She took a deep breath. “Keep going. What were you saying?”

             “Just that these people encountered a group of travellers, and by the description of it, they were Wraith Worshippers come here to trade. They offered good money, so the people of Gabler, as they call this village, agreed. That was, until a few months ago, when they started suggesting they join the protection of their new leader.”

             “New leader…” Evan cleared his throat and pointed at the symbol sprawled out on the page. The ink in which it was drawn was as black as the tattoos on the skins of the Jaffa who followed Ba’al, whereas the other letters were written in dark red ink. Clearly, the writer had put an extra effort into depicting the symbol. Evan cleared his throat. “So, those Wraith Worshippers who came here swore their allegiance to Ba’al?”

             Jackson nodded. “Looks like it.”

             Evan wasn’t sure how he felt about it. “What did they offer?”

             “Protection,” Alex guessed and Jackson nodded again.

             “Well, the Wraith are a real problem for everyone in this galaxy. Relocating people, connecting them to a new network of Stargates, is as good as any witness protection program on Earth.”

             “More effective probably,” Mitchell said. He’d gotten up and was slowly moving towards the table where Evan and Jackson were sitting. “At least now we know what Ba’al’s doing here.”

             “He’s not posing as a God anymore?” Alex frowned. “That’s…” she trailed off.

             “Should we presume that he’s become humble?” Mitchell grinned up at her, but she didn’t return the smile.

             “Yeah, well the basic principle of the thing remains the same,” Jackson said, pushing up his glasses. “He makes people follow him, even worship him, he takes them where he wants them to go and then makes them serve him in exchange for protection. In the Milky Way it was protection against the other System Lords, here it’s protection against the Wraith. He’s creating new communities, just using slightly different techniques.”

             “And with his cloning capabilities, he can maintain a solid presence in the communities he’s established,” Evan concluded grimly.

             “Fun times. Guess we’re going to have to try and catch up with the people where we found his symbol,” Mitchell said. “Before they all start disappearing, let’s just hope the Daedalus-

             “Evan?” Alex said, interrupting Mitchell’s train of thought and he looked up at her. She sounded annoyed and, if anything, she’d become even more pale and she was wringing her hands nervously. “Could you come up here for a moment?” Her expression hadn’t changed, but the edge in her voice and the very fact that she’d interrupt Mitchell drove him off his chair straight away. Something was wrong. Very wrong indeed.

             “Sure,” he said as calmly as possible, though, of course, Mitchell and Jackson were bound to notice that Alex was acting weird. She waited for him at the top of the stairs and as she took his hand to pull him into the room they were sharing, he felt that her skin was cold and if the tone in her voice hadn’t already driven the worried glances from Mitchell and Jackson straight out of his mind, then this touch surely did.

             “Alex, what’s wrong?” he asked, closing the door behind himself, shutting out the discussion below and the fate of the galaxy with it.

             She swallowed hard, the sound echoing in the silence. This room only consisted of a narrow bed and one wooden chest right underneath the window and the room was small enough that it didn’t feel cold when they were both in here.

             A small film of sweat clung to her brow and her hand squeezed his almost urgently, before she stepped closer and wrapped her arms tightly around him. It didn’t do anything to stop his heart from pounding rapidly.

             “Alex?” He’d almost been on the brink of saying her full name.

             “Nothing’s wrong,” she said quietly, taking yet another deep breath and her hands digging into his jacket,

             Well, that couldn’t be true. She looked like death itself, her cheeks almost hollow, her eyes watery. He drew her closer and kissed the top of her head. “You’re not telling me the truth, are you?”

             She scoffed. “No, I am. Well, I feel terrible, but nothing’s wrong.”

             His throat was dry as his mind started racing, trying to catch up with her words and the meaning behind them. She was okay. Not sick. And yet she felt terrible.

Nothing’s wrong.

             The words still echoed in his head.

             And he wasn’t sure he could trust that faint spark of exhilaration those words drove straight into his heart. They’d been waiting for so long now. They’d given up, hadn’t they? He pressed his lips together and pushed her away a little to look into her pale face. The nausea, the headaches… it could be anything. It could be a bug. “Let’s not get our hopes up, okay?” He cleared his throat and she nodded. Evan wasn’t even sure if he wanted to believe it. Right now, believing it would mean hope and hope could be devastating.

             No.. hope couldn’t really be trusted. Not in that respect. Not right now. Not until it was confirmed and they were safe.

             She let go of him and reached for her back pocket. Next second, she held up a white plastic stick.

             “Since when-“

             “I’ve had one with me on every mission I’ve been on since Larsa,” she cleared her throat, but he wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were instead fixed on the small window in the centre of the stick.  She’d taken one along every single time. Hoping, or watching out for any signs. And now they were there. The signs and the two thin lines indicating that she was expecting. That they were expecting.

             How hadn’t he realized this? How had he not paid attention?! He stared, open mouthed at the plastic stick. This mission could have gone so wrong! So terribly, terribly wrong! Gasping for breath, he drew her closer again.

             He couldn’t comprehend this. Not right now.

He felt numb. Numb, and as though his heart was about to burst from his chest.

             “Let’s wait for confirmation from Doctor Keller,” Alex said quietly and Evan nodded. There was no way they’d hunt down Ba’al with the Daedalus anyway. There was no trace of him. But- no: they wouldn’t go hunting for anyone now. He would. He and his team.

             “Yeah,” he said hoarsely as he buried his nose in her hair. Her breath on his skin was slightly shaky and he had to laugh despite himself. He sat down on the bed and pulled her with him, so she was sitting on his lap. Somehow her looking this pale wasn’t terrifying anymore. It still worried him, but she was okay. She was bound to be. She had to be. He put one of his hands on her hip and kissed her jaw. “Last time we were off-world as well,” he said, trying, and failing to make peace with that memory. That memory of the little living creature he’d held in his arms once. Of those tiny nostrils flaring as his daughter breathed. The baby who wouldn’t cry. She was still missing. Always would be. This, if it was true, wouldn’t change it.

             “Off-world and stuck,” she confirmed, her eyes glistening. His heart contracted painfully as she leaned in to kiss him. Her lips were as familiar and as warm as ever. Not demanding, but comforting. It was all he could do to return the kiss and pull her closer.

             I love you. He thought, as he reached up and touched her cheek. It was still a bit cool, her hand, as it lay on his, still a bit clammy, but she was there and that was all that mattered. And, with just a bit of luck, they would be a family again.

             When she finally drew back a little, he saw the tears in her eyes again. She tried to turn away, so he wouldn’t stare at them, but he kept his hand on her cheek and wiped them away. “It’ll be okay,” he whispered, fully intent on believing it. “It’ll be okay.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 48

2008

“You’ll be okay?”

             “Evan, we’ve been through this before you tried leaving the first time.”

             He grinned down at her and kissed her brow. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

             Alex couldn’t remember seeing him this happy in a while. Since Keller had checked her bloodwork and confirmed the test results, it was as though he was riding a wave of euphoria. And it was catching. Seeing him these days made her heart race and she felt like the girl she’d been thirteen years ago. “Take care, babe,” she said, squeezing his hand.

             “This time around we’re probably even gonna make it through the Gate!” he said laughing. He made no move to go, however. Behind him the stained-glass window was almost glowing with sunlight as he shifted closer, his hands placed on either side of her on the metal desk.

             She put both of her hands on his cheeks and shook her head. “Probably,” she agreed quietly. Two days ago Evan and his team had been set to go on a mission when the city went into lockdown. There hadn’t been an outbreak or anything, but the city’s sensors hadn’t yet been fully calibrated to the new surroundings yet, which sent the systems into a frantic escalation of events. First, quarantine had been established and the city had started broadcasting a signal, which could very easily have alerted the Wraith or Ba’al to their current whereabouts, then quarantine had been breached by Sheppard smashing his way through a window and the self-destruct had started. Not a good start of the new year, all in all, but they’d survived. And for a moment there, Alex had been sure Evan would ask her to go back to Earth. But he hadn’t.

             “You should go,” Alex said, her gaze drifting to the doorway, where she’d heard footsteps, but he shook his head.

             “I know.” It was just a routine mission. He and his team were alerting their allies of Ba’al trying to take advantage of their fear of the Wraith. So far without a whole lot of success. They either didn’t take them too seriously or, as had been the case with two more settlements, they’d visited, had vanished.  “Just one last kiss?”

             Laughing, Alex pulled him closer and fulfilled his wish. “Go! I have to go talk to Oliver anyway. I should’ve left about five minutes ago.” So far she hadn’t talked to him yet. Anna had been ordered to stay in bed by Doctor Langdon, the on-base gynaecologist. Not a fun prospect for her friend, and she knew that Oliver was constantly worried about his wife. To pester him about having to pause going off-world with his team wasn’t something she was looking forward to and suddenly she understood why it’d been hard for Teyla to talk to Sheppard. Well, apart from the other obvious issues.

             “Fine,” he breathed and let go of her. “I just hate that we have to tell so many people straight away.”

             Alex nodded and got off her chair. Oliver needed to know, and by telling him, she could just as well tell Anna. She and Evan had already talked to Carter the day before and with the next bunch of reports, the news would also reach the IOA. They might as well tell his parents, her mother and Adam. And somehow talking to their families seemed harder than talking to their co-workers. The expectations of parents and siblings were just that much higher. And they’d keep bugging them about doing all they could to be stationed back home. To keep in touch constantly.

             Well, they’d cross that bridge when they had to and not a moment sooner. “It’ll be alright,” she said, repeating it like a mantra, the way they had done for days now. Taking his hand, she led him to the door. He had to go, or he’d be late, and he’d be embarrassed about it to say the least. “I can take care of myself.”

             “I know that, too. Hey, have you heard from Jackson?”

             Vala, Daniel, Teal’c and Mitchell had returned via Midway Station back to Earth. Their appointment had been rescheduled, but they’d be back once they got any new leads on Ba’al.  Mitchell didn’t appear too sorry about leaving. He was probably just looking forward to being alone in his own home and back at the job at the SGC. Not that Alex could blame him. She knew Evan didn’t feel all that different about it. It had indeed taken Daedalus two whole weeks to get to them, and another three more days to take them back to Atlantis. By then, she and Evan had been almost sure, of course, but they hadn’t told anyone stranded with them about what was going on. Alex still suspected Vala guessed something, but she and Vala hadn’t talked about it. Neither had she told Daniel.

             “There hasn’t been a dial-out, you know?”

             Evan let out a long breath and nodded. “No, no, of course.” It’d be three days before Carter dialled Midway to send the next package of reports and messages and two more days until the next data package from Earth was expected. And Evan wouldn’t be back to hear the news straight away. Daniel had taken pictures of the book which they had brought with them and Evan was interested in the result. He usually was about the archaeological research. He said it was interesting and it didn’t make his head spin like McKay’s talk often did. If Alex hadn’t known him, she surely would not have taken his words as a compliment.

             “I’ll save Ellen’s and your parents’ emails for when you get back.”

             He nodded, threw an arm around her and kissed her temple. They were in front of one of the transports now and already he was in full gear. He only needed to get to the Gate Room now and meet up with his team. Jonas among them. She wasn’t looking forward to that talk either.

             “Sounds like a deal,” he said, leaning in to kiss her one last time. He was grinning now. From ear to ear and he looked like that boy again. The one she’d met in the ruins of Trier. “I love you!”

             “Love you too!”

 

Daniel looked down at his watch. They’d been waiting for about half an hour. Thirty minutes had already passed since their set appointment. And he looked more nervous than Alex felt.

             “What-“

             Shaking his head, Daniel leaned his head against the wall. “I have to be at work at midnight,” he grin and with a look at Ellen, who wasn’t even smiling. She would have been a year ago. But things were so different from what they would have been then.

             “I’m gonna go inside and ask what’s taking so long,” she said. “We have reservations after all.”

             “No, we don’t,” Evan said, his thumb brushing over the back of Alex’s hand.

             “Yes, we do.” Ellen sighed and got up from her chair. They were the only people waiting in the long, clinically clean and embarrassingly bureaucratic hallway.

             “Ellen-“

             “I know. But my brother is getting married and I want to take him out for dinner at least… well, and his wife and the best man.” She threw a look at Daniel, who just raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

             Best man.

             Things were rushed, they were messy and the world had flipped upside down several times these past few months. The usual terms didn’t exactly apply to this wedding. Daniel was just one of the witnesses, so was Ellen. There was no celebration planned, no cake. Daniel and Ellen had agreed to come and be here with them. Who else should they have asked? Daniel was the closest friend Alex had. Ellen was another friend and Evan’s sister. It’d made sense to ask them.

             It wasn’t as though this was a secret. It wasn’t as though they were eloping. This wedding didn’t even need to take place if it were up to Alex. She just wanted that document. That name attached to hers and the old one deleted from her passport. So they could officially be perceived and called husband and wife. They’d been that for months already and neither she nor Evan felt like partying. Not with their child still missing. Not with the constant fear that they’d never see her, or the knowledge that she was probably already dead.

             Millions of pictures would start flooding her mind as soon as she allowed herself to think about it. About what Ba’al might be doing to her.

Killing her in various ways to dissect her lifeless form.

Raising her as his own.

Raising her so she could be his next host.

Killing her when he couldn’t get from her what he wanted.

And their daughter would never know that she had parents who loved her. That there were people looking for her, because that child couldn’t think that way yet. She couldn’t feel that way yet. She must be cold. She must be terrified without being able to put a word to the things she was perceiving.

Evan’s hand lay on her arm as though he’d read her thoughts. As though he was doing his best to try and calm her down. “Ellen, we-“

“No!” Ellen argued, shaking her head again. “You’re with me, Daniel, right? We should at least have dinner? We need to eat, right?”

In response, Daniel cleared his throat. He looked at Evan first, then at Alex. His blue eyes were serious and full of sympathy. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing. You’re far too thin. Both of you.”

Alex would have laughed, had she felt like it at all.

“We’re going, or I’m calling mom right now.”

Evan blanched and, just as Ellen had intended, he grunted and nodded. “Fine,” he hissed. “I’ll get you back for that.”

“Major Lorne and Doctor Woolston?” The public official said, just as four people, one young woman in a short white dress and three men in suits left the door at the end of the corridor. The woman eyed Alex suspiciously, then Evan. Evan was at least dressed for the occasion. eHe was in uniform, the dark blue matching his eyes and for a moment she felt her heart starting to race. Had they had time, had they had the opportunity to do this properly, had they thought it necessary to do this just right, he would have worn it as well. As it was, he just didn’t have a suit anymore, and the uniform had been the easiest thing for him to pick.

She held on tight to his hand as they both got up, just as she’d been holding on to him since their return. She’d never let him go again and she didn’t care how unhealthy that sounded to outsiders.

Evan’s thumb stroked gently over the back of her hand. “Well then, let’s get married.”

“Such a romantic,” Ellen sighed, but she wasn’t smiling, or grinning, or mocking them. This wasn’t romantic. They had no intention of making it so. There was just no place for romance in their lives. Not as long as they didn’t have their child with them. And that might never be.

At least they’d be together.

 

“Do you want a beer?”

             “Huh?” Alex almost flinched when Oliver asked her. She’d just sat down in front of him. She’d already arrived too late. At first she’d been to see Anna to tell her and she’d made her friend promise not to tell Oliver. Not that Anna’d had the time and Alex doubted her friend had used the radio to contact him.

             Alex stirred her soup and shook her head. The smell of tomato wasn’t making her nauseated. That was something. She’d met up with Oliver in the mess hall just after his shift had ended. He’d returned back to active duty while she, Evan and SG-1 had been stuck in that frozen village, and he clearly enjoyed being back on his feet again. She hadn’t wanted to talk this through with him while he was patrolling the corridors with a team of Marines, as she would have had to do for being so late. This was better. Even if there were several people nearby. People who wouldn’t be able to overhear what they were saying if she just talked quietly enough. A few tables over McKay was talking quietly with Keller and the way she looked at him was certainly a surprise. When had that happened? Well, at least McKay didn’t seem to notice. Where was his girlfriend anyway? She’d better ask Oliver or Anna about that. Just not right now.

             “Beer?”

             Alex shook her head. “No,” she said. “No, thanks.” She cleared her throat and bit her lip as she looked up at Oliver. Anna had freaked out the moment she’d heard the news and Alex was sure Oliver would be happy for her and Evan as well, but still… she was nervous. In a way she was more nervous than when she’d told Evan. Because, although Oliver was a friend, he’d also been very involved in the search for Nora. He’d been there with them on Larsa, had been there when they were chased to the Gate by Deathgliders, and had been there when she and Evan had been declared Missing in Action. He’d be happy, but also concerned. But he wasn’t Evan. “Oliver, I won’t be going with you on the next missions.”

             “Oh?” Oliver asked, taking a sip of beer and almost choking on it, when Alex added:
             “I’m pregnant.”

             Coughing and thumping himself on the chest, Oliver tried breathing normally again as tears shot into his eyes. Tears, which didn’t vanish when he finally managed to get rid of the foreign matter in his windpipe. Shaking his head, he got up, practically ran around the table to throw his arms around Alex.

             She stiffened and it took her a second before she was able to pat his arm. She hadn’t expected such an outburst, not the tears, not the rough hug, or the way his hand ruffled her hair.

             “Yes,” he laughed and sat down next to her, completely forgetting his meal and his beer. “Alex, that’s great!” There were still tears in his eyes as he looked into her face, smiling and shaking his head. “I didn’t even think you were still… you know, trying?”

             She swallowed hard and dropped her gaze. “Well, it’s still early, so let’s not get too excited.”

             Out of the corner of her eye she saw him shake his head and wipe his eyes. “Don’t talk like that, okay?”  He reached out again and patted her hand. “You stay safe here, alright? Stay here, listen to Anna whine about not being able to walk around anymore, tell me which items I should bring back for you to study…” he trailed off and cleared his throat. “I’m happy for you. I really am.”

             “But?” She turned her head then. He still had that boyish face, and not even the trace of stubble could erase that impression. But his eyes were solemn and though the tears were gone, it was hard to look at them.

             “There’ll be three kids here soon.”

             “Yeah… maybe.” She shook her head and automatically her hand shifted to her belly. It was still flat, no trace of the pregnancy could be seen yet, and still she felt like her body was already changing rapidly. But who could tell if that child would actually be born. It was still too early to say, and she hated thinking about losing another one, this time in a completely different way. She wasn’t sure how she’d bear it.

             “Are you- are you going to stay here? I mean-“

             “Evan’s staying,” she interrupted him with a shake of his head. “I’m staying. My work is here.”

             He nodded, though he didn’t look entirely satisfied with her answer. The smile wouldn’t quite reach his eyes.

             “What?”

             “I-“ he smiled vaguely and shrugged. “I’m just a bit worried. It’s not exactly safe here, is it?”

             Biting her lip, Alex shook her head. “But knowing what you know about the dangers lurking out here and in the Milky Way, do you seriously think any one of us is safer on Earth?”

             Oliver scoffed, reached for his beer and took a sip. “I guess you’re right. But I’m allowed to be worried, right?”

             “Sure. It’s not like I’m not.”

             With a nod, Oliver reached out to take her hand. He’d never done that before, but the warmth of his hand and the earnest expression in his eyes were more comforting than she would ever have thought possible. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “I have to believe that. Even here,” he grinned and that boyish expression appeared again. “I mean, Teyla is staying, so I guess you’re right.”

             “And Anna wants to stay with you.”

             He nodded. “Yes, well,” his sheepish smile made her laugh. “I’d say it’s her own fault, but-“

             “Let’s put it like this, there’s only one Chair on Earth as well, so there’s only so much super protection there.”

             Oliver grunted, but before he could reply, Alex spotted Sheppard steering straight towards them. Since their return he had dropped his grim demeanour and he wasn’t constantly frowning, which was a big improvement, but he had lost some of that carefree boldness Alex had always associated with him. Not that that couldn’t have been just an impression.

             At the SGC, Oliver would have instantly jumped to his feet at the sight of his commanding officer approaching, but as it was, he stayed put and raised one eyebrow at Alex, who couldn’t stop drawing comparisons. She should really stop that. She, like Anna and Oliver and Evan was going to stay here. This was their life for the foreseeable future.

             “Hey,” Sheppard said, slipping into the chair Oliver had just vacated and folding his arms on the tabletop and fixated Alex with a smirk. Not a knowing smirk, just the usual, Sheppard-typical grin. But that grin had ceased reaching his eyes. “You good?”

             “Sure,” she said, exchanging a look with Oliver. Clearly, Sheppard had come to talk to her, but Sheppard wasn’t dismissing her. “What’s up, Colonel?”

             Sheppard nodded. “You know, I’m aware that you were gone a while, but, we sent you our reports of that outpost about a week ago. You haven’t pestered Carter or McKay about it yet. Lorne hasn’t said a word-“

             “I haven’t read it yet,” Alex said, her heart dropping. It was the first time she hadn’t prioritized her work while she was here on Atlantis and the way Sheppard was raising his eyebrows at her, made her want to curl up in a ball and pretend not to be there. The disappointed look in his grey eyes was probably the worst thing about that.

             “You said that place might be an important find, McKay agrees by now, so that’s saying something, and-“

             “I’m sorry,” Alex interrupted him. McKay agreed?! Why hadn’t he said so?! “What- what did you find?”

             Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

             “Absolutely. Now-“

             “Well, Jonas did a bit of translating while you were away. There was some writing on the footage we took. I’m sure he’s pestering Lorne about going there with your team as soon as they’re back.”

             “Thanks,” Alex said, looking over at Oliver again, who was guiding the bottle to his lips again. “I-“ she cleared her throat. She wouldn’t be going, she realized with a sinking feeling. She couldn’t. Not unless they were three hundred percent sure that nothing could happen to them there. “Is-“

             “How many Wraith did you meet, Sir?” Oliver interrupted her before she could stumble into a sentence which would then force her to reveal the pregnancy to Sheppard. And Sheppard, by the looks of it, wasn’t crazy about that topic. Even if he’d only  been upset about Teyla, he sure as hell wasn’t going to like the idea of more babies on Atlantis, no matter how genuinely happy Carter had been about the latest news and no matter how openly she supported Alex’s and Evan’s decision to have the baby here and for Alex to stay here for the foreseeable future with their child.

             “None?” It was almost a question. “It was like that other planet. No trace of anybody coming there since the last meetup there. Or whatever that place is.” He shrugged. “Just take a look at the footage and my report with Doctor Schäfer. McKay has a hunch, but he’d like your confirmation.”

             “A hunch?” Alex asked. “Since when does Rodney McKay not immediately jump to conclusions?”

             Sheppard wriggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Growth?”

“Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Lorne, please report to the infirmary.” Alex stiffened and she automatically raised her head to look out for the voice that hadn’t come from any visible source. Just the intercom.. She took a deep breath. Nothing had happened to Evan… surely not. Her hands were clammy and she got to her feet at the same time Sheppard did. He reached for his earpeace. “Johnson, what is it?”

Alex hadn’t even recognized that voice, but she didn’t exactly care. She walked towards the transport right by Sheppard’s side, completely forgetting all about Oliver and the fact that he was still there. And he was by her side as they reached the transport. Sheppard threw him a look, but didn’t object.

“What is it?” Alex breathed, her heart racing as Oliver put a hand on her back, steering her into the transport.

Sheppard shook his head. “It’s okay,” he said with a shrug. “Lorne and his team brought back a guest with them.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 49

2008

Evan held his arms folded across his chest as he stared down at the isolation room and the prisoner tied to the bed. At the straps holding his arms and legs in place as Keller did all she could to stop the bleeding. The bandages Jonas had put on the prisoner lay discarded to the side. Piles of white cotton drenched in crimson.

            Evan had fired that shot, had known who it was he was shooting and it was probably why he was in this situation now. He had missed on purpose. Despite everything he hadn’t been able to bring himself to shoot to kill.

            He balled his hands into fists, ignoring Carter standing by his side and not looking up when he heard the footsteps of Sheppard and Alex. They were coming. He’d sent Jonas to tell Johnson to call them here.

            “What happened?” Sheppard asked and out of the corner of his eye, Evan saw Alex stiffen as she stepped close to the window and look down on the man lying on that table.

Sheppard addressed him again. “Major?”

            Evan bit his lip and shrugged frowning without looking at Sheppard. “We talked to the village elders and on the way back to the Gate I saw movement in the underbrush.” He closed his eyes for a moment and swallowed hard. “They were ambushing us, but they didn’t really have a chance. I guess they wanted to strike first before we saw them… They all died there and then…. except for our friend here.”

            “Who is it?” Sheppard asked, hands on his hips as he followed Evan’s gaze. Keller was looking up at them. They were standing in one of the observation rooms, the glass window providing them with the best view possible over what was happening down there.

She nodded once. “He’ll get through,” she said into her radio, but Evan didn’t relax. He couldn’t.

            “Javier Pérez,” Alex said tonelessly. “Formerly a Lieutenant in the Air Force and now a follower of Ba’al.”

            “Ah,” Sheppard said with a pause… “Turncoats… love them. Why’d he switch sides?”

 

“Javier isn’t coming, is he?” Alex was standing by the window, looking down at the street below. Javier should have arrived twenty minutes ago, and he was never late.

            “No,” Evan muttered, taking one of the wine glasses and putting it back on the shelf. The set of six large capacious wine glasses was a recent purchase from a flea market in the neighbourhood. Just as these things usually went, he and Alex had gone there to have a look around without any intention of buying anything. So, of course, they’d ended up with these glasses, a decanter and a set of ugly porcelain figurines, which must belong to a long-lost nativity scene. That, at least, was what the internet search on the stamps on the bottom of the figurines had turned up. Alex had conducted it upon coming back home. A blonde woman wearing a long, brown dress and a dark-haired man in wide, bulky pants and carrying a pitchfork. The set was standing on his bookshelf now and looking ugly and staring back at him. They still made him grin.

            Not today.

            “I’ll try calling him,” he said. It’d taken him weeks to get Javier to agree to come visit them, and now, about three days before they were set to travel to Alex’s family, Javier had agreed to come over. Yes, Javier was grieving for the loss of his boyfriend, but he couldn’t keep shutting himself away.

            Alex cleared her throat and looked over her shoulder at him. They’d set the table. Dinner was ready and the three plates were sitting there, waiting to be filled. She came towards him, took the third plate and the cutlery lying next to it and shook her head. “Give him some time.”

            Evan hesitated. His hand was already hovering over the phone, just inches away from picking up the receiver as he met Alex’s gaze and found his own suspicions confirmed. If he called Javier, who had wanted to quit the military, but, for some reason, hadn’t resigned his commission yet, he, Evan woud have to go looking for him. He’d have to go over there, see if he was home. He would have to call others in his squadron and, eventually, if he couldn’t find Javier, he’d have to report his absence if he suspected that Javier was trying to make a run for it. Was Javier going home? Was he trying to flee instead of resigning and possibly facing a couple of very uncomfortable questions?

            Evan nodded. “Alright,” he said. “I’ll give him an hour.”

            “Give him two.”

            He couldn’t do that. If he suspected, and he did, he’d have to report Javier. No matter how well he understood what Javier must be going through. Although… who would know?

No one.

And yet..

Swallowing hard, he picked up the phone and dialled. As he’d suspected, nobody picked up and Javier didn’t have an answering machine. But, at least, now his phone record would show that he’d tried dialling Javier. He’d try again in half an hour or so, then again in an hour. That should be enough. It had to be enough. Who could tell when Javier had taken off. Or rather, if he’d taken off. He could only hope that his friend was okay. That he was on his way.

“Wine or water?”

“Water,” he said. If he had to call his superior officer, he had to be sober. The thought alone made his stomach twist into a painful knot. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to be that guy. The traitor. But he also had a duty to the Air Force. And, in a way, he had a duty to himself; to Alex. If it came out that he had kept his mouth shut, he could end up in trouble, and then where would he be? He wanted to be able to provide for Alex if it ever came to it. And not calling it in would get him into trouble. With a sigh, he sat down and closed his eyes as Alex’s arms wound around his neck, her hands slowly moving down his chest. “Shall we eat?”

“Yep,” he sighed and patted her arm. “Let’s eat.”

 

“Why, though?” Sheppard asked with a frown. “I mean, I get why Ba’al is here, I even kind of get why people start following him, but why people from Earth? This guy can’t have been that desperate for religion, can he?”

            Evan scoffed and shrugged. “I don’t think religion has anything to do with it.” He felt Alex move closer towards him. He could almost feel the warmth radiating from her skin as she stood next to him. Their arms weren’t touching but they might as well be. Slowly, he raised his gaze to look at her profile, at the small nose, the round chin and the blue eyes behind the glasses.

            “He wanted revenge,” she said, clearing her throat, “for Sam. I guess Ba’al made him all sorts of promises. And he was a good engineer, a good pilot and-“ she turned to look at Evan, “well, he was your friend.”

            Evan nodded again.

            “Sam?” Sheppard asked incredulously and Alex shook her head with a look at Carter, who hadn’t even flinched.

            “His boyfriend,” Evan explained. “He died over Bulgaria in ’95. There wasn’t anything either of us could have done to save him, but I alerted the base when Javier deserted… it was a mess.”

            Carter nodded. “Yes, I’m aware,” she said and hit the button on her earpiece. “Jennifer, when can we talk to him?”

            Keller turned to look up at them again and raised her hands. “A couple of hours at least.”

            “Give him something to wake him up,” Evan said grimly.

            “Major,” Carter frowned at him, but he ignored the sharp tone in her voice. It didn’t sting. It couldn’t. Not with how numb he felt looking down at that once familiar face. The dark curls, the dimple in his chin, the ghost of that boisterous smile still lurking in the corners of his mouth.

            “He knows where Ba’al is hiding,” Evan added, throwing a look at Carter. “He knows-“

            “Yes, but we won’t risk a prisoner’s health just to speed things up, Major.”

            “What happened anyway?” Sheppard asked. “Why did they ambush you guys?”

            Even pressed his lips together and resumed looking down at Javier. They had him. Finally, they had a lead on Ba’al and they’d bring Javier to justice for what he’d done to Alex and for the role he’d played in Ba’al’s operation. This was yet another reason why this was personal. He let out a long breath. “I don’t know. We should ask him, I suppose.”

            “Nobody else survived?” Alex asked, almost hesitantly. “I mean-“

            “No,” Evan said, his voice cool as Keller left the room below. In a few minutes she’d be here to tell them the odds of Javier making it. Evan wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it. The fact that he hadn’t been able to kill him, didn’t exactly mean he wanted him to live. Did that make him a coward? “Nobody.” Jonas had shot the first assailant, Evan had hit Javier and Nabi had picked off the last one. “It happened too fast.” It was an excuse, he knew that.

 

Evan put down the phone, his skin ashen grey.

            Reaching out her hand, she guided him down to the sofa. It hadn’t taken him long to make the call. His words had been reserved, well-chosen and had come out decidedly. The way they were supposed to. In a way he’d sounded a lot like her father had the day when he’d gotten his last assignment. The one which had sent him to his death.

            She took his hand and she remembered exactly how much her parents had fought whenever her father was home. How much she’d hated her mother for constantly criticising her father when he was home. He wasn’t home a lot, and why did she have to give him such a hard time?

Things were different now, of course. Nowadays Alex wished she’d been more understanding with her mother, but somehow Alex couldn’t find it in herself to tell her mother that. Even if she now knew what it was like to be with someone whose only job it was to follow the chain of command and to be loyal. Loyal to a government. To a military commander. To his team. She knew her father’d had to follow orders, and sometimes even do things that went against his conscience. Just as Evan did. But Evan let her in. He let her see what it did to him. Not always, but sometimes. And Alex couldn’t help but admire him for his conviction, even if she wished he didn’t have to do this right now. This must feel like he was betraying a friend. But Javier hadn’t been his friend in a while. Not really. Not since Sam’s crash. Somehow Javier was blaming Evan for it. She’d seen it in Javier’s eyes that one time they’d met after it had happened.

            “What did he say?” she asked as Evan leaned back, his gaze fixed upon the ceiling.

            “They’re gonna start looking for him,” he said, brushing his hand over his eyes.

            She reached out to him, touched his hair, dark brown and silky under her touch. He leaned into her and wound his arms around her, his cheek resting against hers. He was doing the right thing. He had to be.

Chapter Text

Chapter 50

2008

Alex had thought long and hard about joining him and then decided that she couldn’t stand it. There was very little she couldn’t stomach, but this… this was too personal. And Evan couldn’t exactly blame her.

             Interrogating a prisoner was never fun.

             Interrogating a wounded one even less so.

             Interrogating a former friend, well that was a whole new experience for him.

             Sheppard was sitting on the other side of the bed, whether it was as a watch dog, or his superior officer in the line of duty, Evan couldn’t quite say. Probably a little bit of both. Evan doubted the Colonel would stay silent for long. One thing was certain, though, Sheppard wouldn’t lash out at him if he chose the wrong words or messed this up.

             Javier was staring at Evan. He hadn’t said a word yet. Neither had Javier. A simple hello would have felt wrong. The last time he’d seen him, Javier had lied to him. Not half a year later he had aided in the kidnapping of his wife, who had called him friend once as well. And Sheppard knew, and that was why Evan was glad his commanding officer was who he was. He understood these things better than most others might. But patience still wasn’t one of the virtues he was known for. Clearing his throat, Sheppard leaned forward. “As much as I like this staring contest, can we get going, please?”

             Javier’s dark eyes darted over to Sheppard and Evan watched in amazement as, for the fraction of a second, the muscles in Javier’s shoulder’s stiffened as though he was preparing to stand erect. Like the military had never been quite forgotten by the body. But it was gone as quickly as it had come. He flinched and his eyes squeezed shut for a second. Moving was still painful.

             Good.

             “And you are?” Javier asked, though he must know. The way he’d looked at Sheppard just now said as much.

             “Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard,” Sheppard said grimly, leaning forward slightly, “and you know Major Lorne here, of course?”

             “Sure,” Javier said without looking at Evan. “When are you taking me back to Earth to lock me up for the rest of my life?”

             “You’ve never been an optimist,” Evan said, though, of course Javier was right. Of course they’d send him back. As soon as he could be moved, which might only take a day or two.

             “Don’t act like you know me.” Javier’s voice was little more than a hiss and he leaned back against the pillows again, his eyed directed upward.

             “Fine,” Evan folded his hands to keep himself from balling them up into fists. “Why were you so stupid to attack us?” He felt Sheppard’s warning gaze. He wasn’t like this usually. Usually he was able to keep his cool. Not so much at the moment.

 

“I thought you’d want to watch the interrogation?” Jonas drew up the chair next to hers and sat down.

             Alex only looked at him briefly before turning her attention back to the screen of her tablet. “What makes you say that?” The footage of the ruins which Jonas had brought back from his mission with Sheppard and his team had been enough to distract her so far. Well, almost. And she wished Jonas would want to talk about that rather than the issue which was bound to be occupying his mind as well. He was on Evan’s team. He’d been there during the attack. He’d helped carry Javier back through the Gate.

             “Come on.”

             With a sigh, she turned the tablet upside down and looked at him. “I don’t. I don’t want to hear his excuses or justifications for why he did what he did. I don’t want to hear how going over to Ba’al was the only choice he had to get back at Evan.”

             “That’s a bit of a stretch, wouldn’t you say?”

             “What?”

             “Getting back at Evan as the sole purpose for becoming a follower of a System Lord? To betray one’s own planet and go to a whole new galaxy? Just because someone was a jerk at one point?”

             Alex swallowed hard. She’d never heard anyone call Evan names before, but Jonas wasn’t entirely wrong. But what Evan had done had been a choice he’d needed to make. “I agree,” she said hoarsely and took a sip of camomile tea. She’d switched from coffee to that disgusting concoction the moment she’d found out about the pregnancy. “That’s what I said… It’ll be enough for me to hear it from Evan. I really don’t want to be near him.” She could remember all too well the moment the Ba’al clone had threatened to kill Javier. And yet Javier had run off to join another one. To keep serving a self-obsessed parasite, who, by the looks of it, was hell-bent on dominating the universe.

             “Right,” Jonas said quietly. He was silent for a moment, then he cleared his throat. “Are you a bit tense today?”

             With a scoff, she picked up her tablet again to stare at the black screen. He reflection staring back at her looked exhausted, the hair a bit of a mess, the skin blotchy. So much for the glow of pregnancy. “Look who’s talking.”

             The sheepish smile was almost enough to make her regret snapping at him. Almost. But not quite. He’d had the privilege to be bad tempered for months now and she’d be damned if she let him off the hook that easily.

“Okay. Sorry.” Shaking his head, he took the tablet from her and turned it on. “You’re looking at the stuff we brought back? Did you get a chance to look at my notes?”

             “Yes.” Alex sighed in relief. “So… another meeting place?”

             “And a map,” Jonas said, opening the picture file with a tap of his hand. Then he pulled one of the ten or so empty notebooks towards him and started sketching wildly.

 

Javier smiled unhappily. “Does it matter? You killed all of my men, you captured me, you should be satisfied.”

             Evan barely held back a groan of frustration. He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. He wouldn’t have minded kicking the metal frame of Javier’s hospital bed, just to see him flinch. “Stop being such a baby. You know-“

             “I know I’m going to end up in prison if I’m lucky, on death row if I’m not, so why should I tell you anything?”

             “Because those aren’t your only options.” Evan exchanged a brief look with Sheppard. They’d agreed on making the offer, even if there was no way they could know the Air Force would honour their promises. But he didn’t much care if their superiors chose to ignore that. Javier would have gladly watched Alex be turned into a host, or killed. “You know there are more planets out there than just Earth. We could hide you.”

             Javier’s smile widened. “There’s no place in the universe I could be safe from him. I doubt I’m safe here-“ he squeezed his eyes shut and hissed in pain. He’d been wounded badly, but Keller had patched him up as best she could, but apparently she hadn’t given him enough pain killers. “with you.”

             “What’re you saying, Pérez?” Sheppard leaned in, one hand on his knee.

             “I’m saying I don’t exactly trust you.”

             “Well, that’s your problem,” Evan said grimly. “Tell us where Ba’al is, and we might even let you go.”

             “I tell you where he is and another one is gonna kill me anyway.”

             Well, that was a grim prospect. Evan made a mental note to discuss that with Sheppard once they were alone. He could see that Javier’s lids were drooping again. Not long, and he’d be out again.

             “You could do it for the sake of finally doing the right thing,” Sheppard said with a frown. “I guess you know better than anybody else here what you’re responsible for. Couldn’t help to set a couple of things straight?”

             “I don’t think there’s nothing on Earth you care about anymore. You didn’t want Ba’al to kill Alex. She told me you tried warning her on that ship. You’re not-“

             “Oh, stop that, Evan.” Javier closed his eyes and shook his head.

             “What did he promise you, Javier?”

 

“A map?” Alex asked with a frown as she watched Jonas’ hand fly over the page.

             “Yes, well, a couple of symbols appear more often than others. Same as with the steles on the other planet. There are words, there are sentences, and there’s a particular pattern again.” Jonas propped the tablet against a full water bottle and Alex almost flinched as it threatened to fall over. The quick rush of adrenaline subsided as quickly as it had come. “Have you sent this to Daniel yet?” she asked.

             Jonas had set ten markers on the white page, each marker representing a word in the text etched into the tiles of yet another meeting place. And no small wonder McKay was starting to get excited by this. On the southmost edge of the plateau, there was the symbol, which would have drawn everyone’s attention. A very clear depiction of a Zero Point Module. But what interested her most of all was the simplified depiction of the galaxy which Jonas opened on the tablet now. He quickly jotted down a Gate address next to one of the markers he’d drawn. Lantea. And then another address. The place where they’d found the first meeting place, and then another one representing the one they’d found now. And he was right. The position of the markers represented the position on the star chart. “From which planet was this picture taken?” Alex asked.

“Lantea.”

Lantea. Of course. The Ancients’ homeworld in the centre of this galaxy. “So. Daniel?”

             “No,” Jonas said and he started connecting the markers. “I doubt he’ll have the time to investigate this anyway. I mean, this could be-“

             “Why would they hide it, though? I mean, that world. The Ancients and the others who came there clearly had some kind of understanding between them. And no matter how ceremonial this was, why hide a secret message?”

             “Maybe it’s not a secret message,” Jonas said, shaking his head as he connected the last two markers and then drew a line straight up, to the circle representing the glyph of the ZPM. “Maybe it’s just art.”

             “Hm…” Alex scratched her temple. The symbol Jonas had drawn up was too familiar. She’d worn it on her sleeve for years. A pyramid with a circle hovering over the top. The point of origin of Tau’ri, of Earth. “This is a bit of a coincidence, wouldn’t you agree?”

             Jonas shrugged, clicked the top of his pen and stowed it away in his breast pocket. “I mean, Earth was the Ancients’ homeworld in the Milky Way, right? And they came before the Goa’uld, which means, as the builders of the Stargate network, they must have already chosen this symbol for the point of origin before the Goa’uld even left their homeworld, right?”

             She’d never thought of that. But of course Jonas was right. “So, you’re saying this is telling us there are more Zero Point Modules on Earth?”

             “No, I’m just saying this symbol was meaningful to the Ancients, and probably to the other races here as well. They chose the symbol for Earth, yes, but that doesn’t mean the only valid interpretation is Tau’ri. My guess is, it’s got some relevance in terms of referring to something unifying. It would make sense in this context.” He pointed at the tablet again and opened the next file, which showed the whole plateau in panoramic view. No steles in this one, just tiles and the wide horizon. “This could be something big.”

 

“Lorne, I don’t think you being there is a good idea,” Sheppard said, ruffling his hair and looking over at the door behind which Javier was fast asleep again. Before Evan could speak up, Sheppard shook his head. “I don’t mean the way you talk to him, but your presence alone.”

             Sheppard wasn’t wrong. Evan let out a long breath and leaned against the wall. The window opposite was overlooking the ocean. Dark rain clouds were fast approaching. Soon enough the whole city would be caught in a storm. Just a minor one, granted, but still. The flying lesson for the new arrivals on Atlantis would be scrapped because of it. The city looked more grey with the threat of imminent rain and he hated how exactly it matched his mood. “I don’t disagree, Sir,” he muttered. “But I also think I’m the only one who can get anything out of him. He’s been in Ba’al’s service for years and I knew him before that.”

             “That might be the problem exactly.”

             “Or not…  give me another chance next time he wakes up.”

             Sheppard frowned and looked at his watch. Keller had told them it might be hours before Javier woke up again. “Fine,” he grumbled and started heading towards the transport. “One last try.”

             “Right. Sir, I’m sorry, but we just don’t have any time to waste, do we? Ba’al might still be well on his way to setting up his own network and Pérez is the only lead we got.”

             “Maybe.” Sheppard started turning away, when he remembered something and turned to look at Evan again. “Why do you think he doesn’t believe he’s safe here? Just paranoia?”

             “I hope so,” Evan said, clearing his throat. “The only other alternative is a bit disconcerting.”

             “Yeah…” Sheppard muttered. “Take a look into the most recent personnel files, though, would you? Just in case we missed any connection to one of Ba’al’s previous operations on Earth?”

             “Yes, Sir.”

             Sheppard nodded. “I’ll go talk to Carter in the meantime.”

 

“We should take this to Anna,” Alex muttered, going over her notes again. Nox writing, a new alphabet and Ancient. Those were big enough on their own, but with this promise of a map hovering over them, she should be more excited. Sheppard was right. But she felt the damper just the same. Because neither she, nor Anna could go off-world to chase this riddle.

             Jonas nodded and the smile slowly started to fade from his face. His eyes took an expression, which made her slightly uneasy. “Alex?”

             “Hm?”

             “I- I got you a Christmas gift.”

             “It’s been three weeks since Christmas… and you don’t celebrate.”

             The grin accompanied by the crinkles around his eyes didn’t quite manage to erase the sudden unease she felt looking at him. Shaking his head, he took a deep breath and reached into his pocket. Not a big gift, then.

             “I didn’t exactly get it,” he said quietly and she could see the effort it took him to keep eye contact.

             “Jonas, I don’t have anything for you.”

             Jonas shook his head, took her hands and placed something inside the palm of her hand, closing her fingers around the small box and covering it with the other hand before Alex could see it. “You’re pregnant, right?” There was no tension in his voice, just a trace of sadness, which brought tears to her own eyes before she could even begin trying to hold them back.

             “How-“

             Jonas shrugged. “You’ve been avoiding me. More than usual. You haven’t talked to me since you and Evan got back and- well… Anna told me just now.”

             A snort was the only response she could give. She shook her head. She’d meant to tell Jonas herself. She’d meant to break it to him gently. This wasn’t easy for him, she knew that. 

             “It’s okay. I’ll live. Now, take a look.” This was more than Alex would have expected from Jonas. Not after what he’d been through.

             “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want you to find out like that.”

“Don’t worry about it. Really.” He took another deep breath, leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “You deserve this.”

Blinking hard, Alex lifted her hand. A small wooden box. “What is it?”

             “In Kelowna it was a tradition to present a child with a stone representing the time of the year it was born it. Kind of like a birthstone.”

             The past tense hung heavily in the air. Was. Jonas really had given up on his world. Well, of course he had. The Ori had been defeated, but no contact had been established with Langara. And he’d decided to stay here. To work. To distract himself.

             Alex wiped her eyes and opened the box with trembling hands. A thin silver chain lay on black velvet, a light brown stone, almost the colour of ember was held by a delicate mounting in its centre.

             “The length can be adjusted easily,” Jonas said quietly, the additional chains are below the velvet, but-“

             “Jonas-“

             “It won’t be right for your kid, of course, but it-“

             “Jonas, I can’t accept this.”

             Jonas nodded and took her free hand. For a moment she couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened, hadn’t Evan been at the SGC when she arrived. Would she have developed romantic feelings for Jonas? Who could say? They shared a lot of the same interests. They made a decent team. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t confessed to some interest in her at one point. But this right here had nothing to do with that. This was so much more. And it hurt. Just looking at the stone and remembering that he had kept it for his own child. That he’d taken it with him from Kelowna and now to a whole new galaxy. That he’d kept it for months and now had decided to pass it on told her that he’d given up on his past. That he wanted the dream to love on.

             She took a shaky breath and squeezed his hand.

             “Alex, please, I want you to have it. For your kid. I don’t want to keep hanging on to this like a wasted dream. This belongs to someone, and if not to your kid, then to whom?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

2008

“Why are you doing this?”

             Was he imagining it, or was her stomach already starting to grow? The first probably. She wiped the thin layer of water off the steamed-up mirror and looked into his eyes before wrapping the towel around her body. Alex wasn’t smiling. “Evan?”

             “Yeah, I know.” He sat down on the edge of the bathtub to look at her as she brushed the wet hair back. “I can’t let this drop.”

             Alex nodded. “I get that,” she said. “I’m just wondering if, maybe, somebody else could take over the interrogation for a while.”

             “No, I really need to get back. I need to find out where that bastard is hiding and-“

             “You know you don’t owe him anything.” The hatred in her voice should have repulsed him, but it just sounded like an echo of the mantra he kept repeating in his head. No, he really didn’t owe Javier anything. Not after what he’d done. But rational thinking didn’t really apply here. It couldn’t. This had become far too personal. Well, maybe that was reason enough to let Sheppard or literally anybody else take over the interrogation. But it wasn’t like Evan could do any damage here.

             “Just one more try,” he said, getting up and pulling Alex closer so her back was pressed against his bare chest. He wrapped his arms around her and took her left hand into his. Their wedding bands clinked softly together. “I’m not gonna get distracted by this, don’t worry.”

             Nodding, she leaned into him. “I’m not worrying. Just… I don’t know.”

             “Hm.” He kissed her neck, right under her right earlobe, remembering the moment a couple of minutes ago under the hot shower. Her hot kisses trailing down his chest, his stomach… he could almost feel them even now. She’d joined him just as he was getting ready to set out again. His research through the most recent personnel files hadn’t turned up anything and he’d taken just a couple of minutes to start typing up his report on the last mission, when Keller had radioed in that Javier would be ready for the next round of interrogation in half an hour. Those thirty minutes had been used up mostly by the quick shower he’d wanted to take, and then Alex had shown up. He needed to get going. But those few minutes with Alex had been worth it. They always were. “Are you gonna be okay?”

             “Yes,” she said, turning her head and brushing her lips against his jaw. “Do you want me to come along?” She’d asked the very same question that morning, and he gave her the same answer he’d given her then.

             “You don’t have to, if you don’t want.”

             “Maybe later.” She took a deep breath and patted his hand. “I don’t know. I’m just going to upset him even more.”

             Evan scoffed and let go of her. He reached for another towel and rubbed it through his hair before reaching for his underwear. “God forbid he gets upset.”

             “You know what I mean.”

             “Yes, I do.” She meant they needed information, and Javier getting more upset than he probably already was, wouldn’t get them closer to the intel they needed from him. “Are you gonna be in the mess later on?” he asked as he pulled on his underpants. He looked at her again, at the face, still red from the heat of the water and her eyes still trained on him.

             “Sure. If I don’t make it to the infirmary, I’ll go there.”

             Evan nodded and kissed her neck. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll see you then.” He was almost certain she wouldn’t come to watch the interrogation, but that didn’t really matter.

 

He nodded at the guards positioned at the door nodded as they let him pass. Nobody else was in the room, not even in the observation room one floor up. There was only Javier in his bed, still tied to the frame, still staring up at the ceiling. And he’d never looked older.

             Evan sat down in the chair next to the bed and turned on the recording device.

             “The new uniform kind of suits you.”

             Evan scoffed and shook his head, not sure how else to react. “Still military.” What about your uniform? What did Ba’al put on your back? Javier had been wearing plain, dark clothes, and Evan was almost sure he and his comrades had been dressed like that to blend in with the crowd of the village on M43-4X1. He’d have to ask that later. Where had all those new followers come from? Were they from the Pegasus Galaxy, or had Ba’al brought them along in his new, fancy ship?

             Javier’s shoulders twitched slightly, as though hinting at a shrug. “Whatever.”

             “I really need answers from you, Javier.”

             “Right,” Javier shook his head. “Good luck with that.”

             “We used to be friends.”

             “Not my fault we’re not anymore.”

             “Yes, it is.” The words came out more harshly than he intended. “Yes, it bloody is. It’s not like you could run off like that. They would’ve found you eventually. And how could you have been so stupid! Why didn’t you just resign?” Well, this wasn’t going the way he’d planned. And he shouldn’t be using this situation to attack Javier like this. He really, really shouldn’t. This wasn’t where this was supposed to go. But he couldn’t stop himself. There was so much that needed to be said and – no. He should probably leave.

Right now.

             “Did you think rationally when your kid was taken?”

             All the air had simply disappeared from his lungs. Nothing but that sickening vacuum remained. He just stared open-mouthed at Javier, his fingers numb. He couldn’t even begin to fathom what Javier could have said that would have unsettled him more. And Evan didn’t even know why. His mind was blank. Wiped of responses and words and all that remained was the vague feeling of vertigo. Of the world slightly tilting to either side while his feet remained firmly on the ground.

             “See? Managed to shut you up after all.”

             “This-“ Evan managed to say, the word taking an incredible effort to form, “you can’t compare that.” He blinked and got up from his chair. He hadn’t expected Javier to bring up Nora, though, of course it should have been plausible for Javier to know about her. But for him to know… for him to speak of their child in this context…

             “Says who? You lost someone, I lost someone.”

             “Nora was my child.”

             “Sam was the love of my life.”

             That shut Evan up for good.

             How dare you?

             He wanted to say it, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The loss of Sam wasn’t any more fair than the death of Nora had been.

             Fuck off!

             Disrespecting Javier wouldn’t do.

             I didn’t desert over it!

             No, he’d filed a disrespectful report instead. He’d risked his career. He’d determinedly offended his superior officers, knowing full well how it would be seen.

             I didn’t betray my friends over it.

             No, he’d betrayed his wife. He’d filed another report, one that had technically erased the old one, without telling her.

             I never switched sides over it.

             Well, that was true. He hadn’t left anyone behind. He hadn’t lashed out the way Javier had. But Evan was in a different position. Always had been. “You’re such a stupid ass,” was all Evan said before he forced himself to sit down again. “I wanted to help you, you know.”

             “You didn’t though. You turned me in.”

             “Somebody would have reported you.”

             “Somebody would have, yes. But it was you, wasn’t it?”

             “Yes.” There was no denying it. And there was no denying he still felt lousy for it. But it wasn’t an excuse. Not where they were right now. He felt the anger slowly fade, felt the tension leave his body with every breath he took and exhaled. 

             Javier’s dark eyes met his and the trace of a smile played around his pale lips. “You should’ve shot me, you know?”

             “Why? What would be the use of that to anyone.” How had they come this far? Twelve years ago, he might have imagined that, should they meet again, Javier would be bitter. Not wounded by Evan’s hand, lying in a hospital bed and on his way to face a lifetime in some cell in Area 51.

             Javier shook his head. “Just forget it.”

             “Javier,” Evan cleared his throat again. There was no use making accusations. No use trying to point fingers. Javier had made his choices. Evan had made his and there was no way they could change them. He might almost have considered Javier his little brother once. Almost. But clearly he’d only thought that. Clearly, there had never been enough trust between them. “I’m sorry, but-“

             “Forget it.” Javier’s eyes travelled up to the ceiling again. “Where’s Alex?”

             “Why?”

             “Guess I should apologize.”

             “Not sure that’ll be enough.”

             “Says you of all people.”

             The rage started bubbling up again, but before it could make him lash out once more, Evan bit his lip. “Just stop that. What did he promise you?”

             “What? The great System Lord?” The ironic grin made Javier’s face look almost ghostlike. “Nothing much… I started working for his firm, and I got… sucked in? I don’t know. And at one point you can’t turn your back on them anymore. Guess you know that feeling. Bit like the military.”

             “Oh, come on.”

             “Only that the military never promised me anything I really wanted.”

             “Like what?”

             Javier fell silent again and Evan was waiting. Javier’s eyes widened for a bit as his eyes followed something ahead. Evan followed his gaze and saw that Alex had entered the observation room after all. She was still pale, held her arms folded over her chest and stared down at Javier, her expression unreadable. Johnson was standing right behind her. The younger woman leaned forward and pushed a button next to the glass window. Her voice rang through the intercom. “Major Lorne, we couldn’t reach you over the radio. Colonel Carter and Major Sheppard would like a word, Sir.”

             “Alright,” Evan said and nodded. “I’ll be there.”

             “He promised me he’d get Sam back,” Javier whispered, almost too quickly and too low for Evan to pick up. His eyes darted back to Evan’s and his expression had changed. “I don’t think he ever intended it, but what would you have done?”

             Evan got up. He should have guessed it, really. A long time ago. His voice was cold as he answered. “I’d have said no,” he said, for the first time ever absolutely sure that he meant it. No matter how much he missed his child, the price that Ba’al would have demanded was too high. Far too high. His soul, or whatever it was that made him who he was, wasn’t worth it, and he knew his daughter would never have wanted her life to be bought like that. “You know what? Sam would’ve hated what you’ve become.”

 

Alex waited for him right outside the room, her hands in her pockets. “You look terrible,” she said as they started walking towards the nearest transport, past windows through which one could barely see thanks to the billions of water droplets already sticking to them.

             “I feel terrible.” They were out of earshot of the guards and he leaned in to kiss her temple just as a wave of thunder rolled over the city. “Are you coming along to Carter and Sheppard?”

             “Okay,” she said with a nod, her hand grasping his shirt. “Jonas figured out a thing or two about that other meeting place.”

             “Hm,” he grunted, grateful that she was trying to distract him and confident that it wouldn’t do any good. “Tell me?” They stepped inside the transport and he hit the area of the screen indicating the control room level.

             “For one, he thinks there are at least seven more worlds to explore, none of which are in the database-”

             “Neat. That’ll be eating you up, I suppose.”

             “Yes, but, well…” she cleared her throat as the doors closed. “And he agrees with McKay that there might be a ZPM on one of those worlds, or research on ZPMs. They were the Ancients’ most useful power source and there’s little to no research on Zero Point energy here on Atlantis. They tried exploring other means of getting energy of course, but-” she broke off when their eyes met. “Well, they hid them well, didn’t they?”

             “Never harms to have a spare or two.”

             “Definitely.” He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer for a moment, inhaling her scent and closing his eyes. His heart was still racing, his head was throbbing. How he hated what was going on here at the moment with Javier. Why hadn’t he had the guts to shoot him?

             And that thought was even worse than the conversation had been. Because it hadn’t really been an interrogation, had it?

             The transport doors opened again and he let go of her, but she took his hand nonetheless. Just for a couple of steps more. Her hand was cool in his. Cool and dry and comforting. “So, you think I’ll be leaving on another mission soon?”

             “Who knows. Jonas is eager.”

             Evan managed a grin. “I bet he is. When are you gonna pitch it?”

             “Tomorrow, I guess? We’d better talk to Anna about it first, though. She’s the head of the department.”

             “Sure.” Evan nodded and pulled her closer again. “Just tell me which artefacts you want me to bring home and I will. You can do the truly exhausting work.”

             “Looking forward to it,” she said, pulling a face. He knew how much she wanted to do this herself, but for now that was out of the question. “We should have a talk or two about how things are gonna go once the baby is here. Missions, research…”

             Alex nodded but averted her gaze. They’d reached the main embarkation area and she dropped his hand. “Let’s not jinx it, though.” She started climbing the steps leading up towards Carter’s office, when the transport behind them opened up again and Johnson caught up to them. “Thanks, Johnson,” he said. “For coming to get me. Guess I should have checked the battery on this thing.” He tapped his earpiece and Johnson nodded once, but didn’t comment. She really didn’t talk much, did she?

             Carter was already waiting for them, leaning against her desk, arms folded over her chest and talking to Sheppard, who looked a bit less relaxed than a few moments ago. “Ma’am? Sir?” Evan cleared his throat and after a brief nod from Carter, entered the room with Alex in tow.

             “How’d it go?” Sheppard asked, sitting down in one of the comfortable leather chairs.

             “Not too well,” he said. “I don’t think he’s gonna talk, Colonel.”

             “Yeah, well… he’s gonna be sent back home in four days. So we have until then to get as much out of him as we can.”

             “Already?” Alex asked, surprised.

             “Apparently the IOA has a couple of specialists at hand who want to give it a go. And Doctor Keller said he could be moved by then.” Carter didn’t look remotely pleased. Her distaste for the IOA was clear, and Evan didn’t feel too different, though the wording she’d chosen made him slightly uncomfortable.

             “What’s that supposed to mean? Specialists?”

             “They’re sending him to Area 51, Major,” Carter said eyebrows raised and without explaining any further. That didn’t sound good... “There’s no other place they could keep him with what he knows.”

             “Sure, the place is secure,” Alex said grumpily. She sat on the armrest of one of the chairs and raised her eyebrows.

             “I’d like you two to take him there,” Carter continued. “The IOA is going to start doing interviews with the all senior expedition members, starting tomorrow. Colonel Sheppard will go first, then you. On Earth.”

             “On Earth?!” Evan asked incredulously. “They want to interview this entire expedition-“

             “Just the senior staff, Major,” Sheppard interrupted him with another one of his signature grins.

             “Still! Why don’t they just come here?! Wouldn’t that be easier?!”

             “Easier, more effective and less time consuming, yes,” Carter said with a nod. “But nobody on the committee is too fond of going off-world, so we’re gonna have to go there.”

             Evan scoffed. He was just about to ask whether they’d get a day or two off, so they could at least talk to their families, when Carter and Sheppard looked at each other. “Go ahead,” Carter said, after touching the button on her radio.

             Another trip back to Earth. He exchanged a look with Alex. She wasn’t too happy about the news concerning Javier either, he could see that. He wasn’t done questioning him. He needed him here to find the Ba’al clone. He was the only real lead they’d managed to get these past few months.

             “Major?” Carter cleared her throat and when he turned his head to look at her he saw that she was frowning.

             “Lorne, how was Pérez doing when you left just now?”

             “Fine, Sir, why?” His voice started to break. He didn’t really need the answer. There was no trace of a smile left on Sheppard’s face.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 52

2008

Javier had a sister.

             Evan was glad he wasn’t the one who had to deliver the message of her brother’s death. Who knew what she would say? Who knew where she thought her brother had been all this time, or what story they were telling her about his death? He was grateful he didn’t have to be the one to lie to her.

             There’d been no sign of a struggle, no wounds, no detectable poisons according to Keller. And yet… it wasn’t right. Javier had been well enough to argue with Evan. He’d been well enough to make snide remarks. He’d been well enough to be sent back to Earth for further interrogation. Well, that certainly wouldn’t be happening now.

             “Major, how could this have happened?” The older man with the beads of sweat on his bald head asked. They were the thing Evan was focusing on. Beads of sweat were easier to look at than those accusative brown eyes.

             He forced himself to meet the gaze. “I wasn’t there, Mr Coolidge,” he said. Sheppard must have gone through this interview already. He hadn’t talked about it. He hadn’t warned Evan or Alex either, though. Alex, who was already done with her interview, and who’d looked disgusted and tired when it was over. She was probably in Jackson’s office right now, arranging a flight for the next day to San Francisco. There was no time to go to England and visit her mother and brother, but at least this interview would give them the opportunity to be with his parents and sister for two days before they were scheduled to return back to Pegasus. That was, if he ever got out of this room. “You could have just read my report, Sir,” Evan continued, “I didn’t think this interview would be about that.” Not solely anyway.

             “No, you weren’t there, Major Lorne,” Coolidge said, exchanging a glance with the man sitting on his right. He somehow kept ignoring the thin, light haired woman on his other side and that bothered Evan more than the tone in which Coolidge and Liu kept exchanging meaningful glances. The woman, Keating, kept twirling her pen between her fingers and was constantly frowning at the sheet of paper in front of her. From the view words she’d spoken when Even entered the room, he deduced that she was British. One American, one British, one Chinese interrogator. Evan wondered, for a brief moment, where the other nations stood on this series of interviews, or whether another team would be taking over the process in a few days. But that didn’t really matter now. Coolidge leaned forward and the beads of sweat looked almost comical. Almost. Evan wasn’t in the mood for a good laugh. “But the tape on which the interrogation was recorded suggests there was tension between the two of you.”

             “Are you accusing me of killing him?” Evan asked, folding his hands on the table and looking at the two men. “I didn’t touch him or any of the medical equipment. You can ask my wife, you can ask Lieutenant Johnson. Also, I wanted to know, probably more badly than you do now, where Ba’al is hiding and where he’s setting up his new little empire.”

             “And that’s the thing,” Coolidge said, “You wanted to know so desperately-“

             “Yes!” Evan said, his voice louder than he intended, “I wanted to know, which is exactly why it wouldn’t have made sense to kill him, would it?!”

             “I think-“ said the thin woman, whose voice sounded more whispy than Evan would have thought possible, “there’s little use accusing Major Lorne of anything. His record is cleaner than most, his service to the Air Force has been impeccable, and, moreover, Doctor Keller’s report didn’t suggest Pérez was murdered.”

             Coolidge didn’t look at his colleague, just frowned and looked back down ar his notes. But Evan couldn’t focus on that. Impeccable. The word was still ringing in his ears when he finally left the room half an hour later. After the woman’s decisive words, the interview had turned into a direction he could handle. Away from Pérez and back to his actual job.

             Impeccable record. When had that happened? He’d screwed up a couple of times and especially the thing with Ba’al was bound to show up. There had been an investigation. He was sure there’d be an investigation into Javier’s death as well. Somebody must have insisted these incidents didn’t spoil his advancement. He probably owed a massive thank you to the Generals he’d served under.

             The corridors were familiar as always, though walking through them felt alien. Like coming home after a very long time. They were the same, and yet they felt wider than he remembered them to be. He always felt that way when he was back. For the first few hours anyway. Only that this time around he wouldn’t be sticking around for hours on end. He reached the lift, hit the button that would get the thing here and waited.

             He still couldn’t get the word out of his head. Impeccable record… and the accusation of murder? The news of Javier’s sudden death had taken them all by surprise, yes, but there had been no evidence pointing towards murder. At least that was what Keller had told them. And he trusted Keller to get this right. Well, there was going to be another autopsy by the looks of it, but there was nothing to suggest he’d been the one who’d killed Javier!

             The one who…

             Something about Javier’s death was fishy, but he’d looked at the footage  of the security cameras. He’d talked to the two guards, to Johnson. None of them had seen anything. Well, maybe he wasn’t doing his job right, but what else was there for him to investigate?

             And still… he felt as though he’d swallowed a massive stone. He wiped his brow as soon as the doors closed. There had been guards. They’d seen him leave. Johnson had seen him leave. Alex had been with him on their way back. There had been security cameras. He repeated those facts again in his head. Everything was in order- except for the fact that Javier was dead. Evan took a deep breath, doing his best to focus, to make his thoughts stop racing. To think rationally. Why was he even afraid? He hadn’t murdered Javier! He’d never even thought about it! And why would he, after deciding not to kill him in that forest?! Why would he, when Javier was the first real lead on Ba’al in months!

             For a moment he closed his eyes. There was no use denying it. He’d tried to for two days now. The worst bit had been the day of quarantine on the Midway station. A day where he’d had little to do but paperwork. Javier was dead and despite everything, despite his anger and his lack of sympathy for the man, he couldn’t forget that they’d been friends once. Close friends. Close enough that he’d defended him against accusations from homophobe drill sergeants in the Academy. Sam and Javier had nearly been found out their first year and Evan had done all he could to cover it up. He’d lied. He’d backed up Sam’s story that he’d been with them the entire time.

             The door opened and Evan stepped into the corridor leading Jackson’s lab. He walked past the one in which he’d spent days of his life. Alex’s lab, which was now, to his surprise, mainly used as a storage room. He cleared his throat.

             What had happened to Javier wasn’t his fault, Evan told himself for the thousandth time. How could it have been? Yes, he’d brought him in, but that was how far he’d go.

             “I’m sure I can come to Atlantis again in a couple of weeks. Once I’m done looking through all the notes the Tok’ra have sent over that is.”

             Evan stopped in the doorway. Vala was sitting on Jackson’s desk, legs crossed and looking perfectly at home surrounded by various artefacts and books scattered around her, while Jackson was leaning against the counter, Vala’s hand casually resting on his shoulder. He was holding an ancient looking, leather-bound book in his hands and was showing it to Alex, who was leaning against the counter next to him. She was the first to notice him and when she spotted Evan, her smile was enough to make his heart feel a bit lighter. “Hey, how’d it go?”

             “Okay, I guess?” he shrugged. She looked better now. Vala’s company did that more often than not, and of course he knew that she missed working with Jackson.

             “Are you sure? What’d they ask you?” Jackson asked.

             Evan huffed, casually wrapped an arm around Alex’s waist and shook his head. “A bunch of stuff about Pérez, about why we slightly changed guard duty in the Gate Room on Atlantis. Basically we could have done this via email.”

             Jackson raised his eyebrows significantly. “The usual, then?”

             “The usual.” Evan nodded and looked at Alex. “Can we go? I really want to check up on the house before we leave.”

             “I couldn’t get us flights,” she said. “Too short notice apparently.”

             That was a bit of a blow… but at least they’d get to talk to their families on the phone. That wasn’t all bad, was it? He nodded. “Fine,” he sighed and looked at Vala and Jackson again, “Listen, since we’ll be staying here for a couple of days, why don’t you two come over for dinner tomorrow or something?” Alex would love that and he managed to get on with Vala a lot easier these days. Being stuck on an abandoned planet for two weeks could do that to you apparently.

             “Sure, why not. Teal’c won’t be back until then, so we’re not going on any missions.”

             “Where is he?” Evan frowned. After the destruction of Dakara, the Jaffa Nation was still struggling, so obviously Teal’c was bound to be knee deep in interplanetary politics.

             “Oh, you don’t know?” Jackson smiled vaguely. “He left for Atlantis about an hour ago. Sam asked him to coach Ronon for his interview?”

 

Sitting behind the wheel of a car always took some getting used to, but, as usual, after about ten minutes he was comfortable enough. Alex’s hand was on his knee and for a second there he remembered what it had been like to drive her to his home after she’d been wounded in the field. She’d been high on pain medication, traumatized and constantly talking about how she wanted him. He had to admit, he’d come terribly close to kissing her that night.

             It was dark now. The roads treacherous with thin layers of ice making the ground slippery. He was more used to having her around now. Her presence wasn’t painful anymore, but calming. “What’d they ask you?” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, then focused his gaze back on the road. At the dark tunnel that was the road ahead and the trees lining it.

             “How we’re planning to raise this child?” She cleared her throat and shook her head. “Told him it was none of his business. Teyla warned me this Coolidge guy was a jerk.”

             “Must have worked. He didn’t ask me a thing about it.”

             “Because you’re a man. Raising a child is my responsibility.”

             Evan couldn’t help but laugh.

             “What?!” The grin in her voice was enough to loosen the knot in the pit of his stomach.

             “I love you, you know that?”

             “Yes,” she sighed, “I know.” The pressure on his knee increased slightly as he turned into their street. Tomorrow morning they’d go to the cemetery. He’d cook her breakfast. They’d call their parents. He reached for his hand and kissed her knuckles.

             “Let’s talk about it though. When we’re back on Atlantis we can talk this over with Anna and Murdoch, and Teyla as well. We’ll find a way.”

             “Okay.” He heard her shift in her seat. Their house was coming into view now. “The lights are on?”

             That was certainly unexpected. And it could only mean one thing: either his parents or his sister were here. They were the only ones who had keys.

             And there was that car. A rental. He sighed and parked their car right behind it. So much for peace and quiet for a couple of hours.

             “They’ll freak out,” Alex said quietly and she wasn’t smiling. It was highly unlikely that their email had gone through the usual security checks already. His parents didn’t know about the baby yet. Neither did her mother and brother.

             “Because we arrived all of a sudden without calling first, or the other obvious reason?”

             “The other obvious reason.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. “Oh God, my mom is gonna want to come here straight away, too if she hears.” She wasn’t wrong. But they wouldn’t have time for that. And they’d gotten used to being alone, just the two of them, and, of course being with their families felt like a chore right now.

             “I’ll tell her no, if you want me to. I’ll even talk to Adam.”

             She laughed and turned her head to look at him. “I don’t need a knight in shining armour.”

             “Not saying I am one.” He grinned as she leaned in, put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him.

             “No, but you are one.”

             “Are you saying you don’t need me?”

             “Shut up, Major.  Let’s get this over with and ask your mom to cook us dinner.”

 

 

Chapter Text

2008

His parents spotted them before they’d even stepped up to the front door. They themselves had only arrived a few hours previously to check up on the house and had been planning to stay for the rest of the week.

            It had taken Alex some time getting used to being welcome in Evan’s family, but despite her earlier reservations she was glad to have them here now. To tell them and for the first time since telling Evan, this felt real. David had pulled her towards him the moment Evan had spoken the words. We’re having a baby.

            She could still feel them reverberating in the air as first his father, then his mother swooped her up in their arms, pulling Evan in as well. A kiss landed on her temple and she knew it was David. He didn’t say anything, just held her tight to his chest and Molly was the first to let go. She wiped her eyes, kissed her son on the cheek and took a deep breath. “You’ve come to stay?” She asked hopefully and Alex felt her heart sink straight away. She dropped her arms and took a step back.

            “No, we’re going back on Friday.”

            “But-“

            “It’s safe,” Evan said, before she could protest even more. “Don’t worry.”

            Molly’s eyes narrowed, but after a brief exchange of looks with her husband, she turned away. “I’ll warm up some dinner for you.”

            “Thanks.” Evan nodded and put an arm around Alex’s shoulders. “I’ll get the bags from the car.” Bags which were barely filled, but which they’d take back twice as heavy. Anna had given them an extra long list of supplies she wanted for her baby in addition to the chocolate she wanted them to get for her.

            “Don’t you want to tell your mother?” Molly asked, already on her way to the kitchen. She’d made soup and before Alex had even entered the kitchen, she’d put the pot on the stove and was starting to heat it up. David sat down at the kitchen table and folded his hands, his eyes darting between his wife and Alex. As usual, he’d assumed the role of spectator rather than participant.

            “Yes, I’m going to call her tomorrow. And Ellen and Adam.”

            Molly nodded, opening one of the drawers and taking out a soup ladle. She was as familiar with the layout of the kitchen as she was with her own, which told Alex only too well that she and David spent more time here than was strictly necessary. Not that Alex minded. This house was barely tended as it was, and in a way she was relieved Nora had visitors every once in a while, no matter how ridiculous that idea sounded to her.

            “Why-“

            “I love my job. Evan loves what he does. And, like he said, it’s as safe there as it can get.” She heard the door slam outside and knew that Evan would be back soon.

            Molly scoffed, but didn’t object again. Instead she stirred the soup almost vigorously. “How long will you be gone this time?”

            Alex huffed and shrugged. “I don’t know.”

            “You can’t fly right towards the end, you know that, right? And you won’t want to put your baby through that.”

            “Mom, would you please stop badgering her? We know what we’re doing here.” Evan had appeared behind Alex and dropped the bags at the very same moment his mother’s head snapped around.

            “You say that now, but-“

            “Molly,” David interrupted her quietly and Molly pressed her lips together and fell silent. And Alex knew exactly what she was thinking. Nora had been born without either of them even knowing they had a granddaughter. And she’d been missing and nobody knew where she was, or why she’d been taken hostage… and now they had a grandchild on the way and they had no idea where it would be born.

            Alex sighed. “I guess we’ll see.”

            Molly’s eyes were fixed on the big pot as she stirred the soup within. “Our things are in the smaller guest room.”

            “Mom, you know you can sleep in the master bedroom while we’re away.”

            David scoffed. “No, thanks.”

            Alex wasn’t entirely sure whether to blush or not, but before she could decide, Evan took her hand and pulled her with him to the staircase. She grabbed one bag, Even the other, then followed him past his paintings, past the photograph of them with Nora. She looked at it every day. She had it with her on every mission and it was in their quarters on Atlantis, but seeing it here, right now, was different. She paused for a moment, looking at the tiny face with the dark hair and the blue eyes. At the small nose and pink, rosy lips. Would the child she was carrying look like that? Would it feel terrible if it did? Would she then finally feel like she was betraying the memory of the child they’d lost?

            “You coming?” Evan was already at the top of the stairs, but he didn’t sound impatient. Just a little bit concerned maybe. He was tired. She knew that. The day quarantine on Midway hadn’t been restful. He’d busied himself with work so he didn’t have to think about Javier. Not that she blamed him.

            He’d barely slept since Javier had died, and him turning around in bed, getting up and lying back down again had kept her from sleeping properly. And she hated seeing him like this. He didn’t feel guilty, she knew that, but he was restless and she doubted it would pass that soon.

            The bags landed on their bed with a soft thud. “She changes the sheets every time,” he muttered and let himself drop down next to the bag. “Just in case.”

            Alex hadn’t really paid attention, but he was right. The sheets had been changed, and not by her or by him. They had a housekeeper come in every couple of weeks to dust and clean, but it was his mother who took care of the rest. Otherwise they’d come home to a dusty run-down home every few months.

            “You know, the next time we come here it might not be just the two of us.”

            He nodded. “The thought had occurred to me as well.” He was silent for a moment and sank back so he was lying down on the mattress. “We’re not exactly well prepare for that, are we?” He was looking up at the ceiling, his face relaxed. “And we still can’t be sure if-“

            “What did we say about not jinxing it?” Him voicing his doubts gave her a little pang. But he wasn’t entirely wrong. She lay down next to him and reached for his hand. Their legs were touching and she felt an itch to take off her shoes. They were the same boots she wore on Atlantis every day. There was little to no use creating a collection of shoes when there were only effectively three pairs you could wear all year round. She was so used to them she barely felt them anymore, but all she wanted to do now was take them off and feel the soft warm carpet underneath her feet. But that would have meant sitting up again and she doubted that could be achieved anytime soon.

            Evan’s thumb gently moved over the back of her hand. “We should go shopping, right?”

            She nodded. The things they’d bought for Nora, her clothes, her bedsheets, her toys and all the other things they’d needed, were stowed away in the attic and Alex couldn’t bear the thought of putting those clothes on another child. “Maybe,” she began, “we could put the crib together at least.” The car seat had been given to another member of the SGC some time ago, and the same was true for the pram. But the crib- the crib was still there.

            Evan’s fingers tightened around hers.  Nora had died in that crib. Throwing it out had been out of the question. So had been selling it. It was still in the bigger of the two guest rooms. Still in pieces and still leaning against the far wall next to the bed. There was a reason why nobody ever slept in there. Why his parents preferred the smaller room of the two. “I don’t know,” he sighed and sat up to untie his own shoes. He was far more active then her these days. Or maybe he was just restless.

            “No, me either.”

            On Larsa he’d built one, or he’d been almost done building it when things had gone south. This one they had now had been bought in a rush, there was nothing too special about it. Except for the fact that it was Nora’s. Would putting another baby in there mean they were substituting? Would it feel like that? And did they want to risk feeling like they did?

            There were steps outside and Alex wasn’t surprised to find David leaning in the doorway. “Are you coming?”

            Evan nodded. “Dad?” he sounded younger somehow as he said it now. Alex couldn’t put her finger on why that was, but he did, and she felt her heart contract.

            “Hm?”

            “On a scale of one to ten, how terrible would it be to use the crib again?”

            “Not at all,” David said after a brief pause and Alex sat up to look at him. Evan had his chin, she realized not. And the crinkles around his eyes were a lot like Evan’s. “You know,” he said, taking a step into the room and sitting down next to Alex, “I had a little brother and he died very young.”

            Evan nodded. “Yes, I know.”

            “I’m so sorry,” Alex whispered. She’d never heard that story, but she accepted David taking her hand now.

            “My parents had another kid not a year after little Caleb died. Your aunt Michaela. And I think it was the best thing that could have happened to them. They never forgot about him, they just kept going. Life goes on, you know? And you losing Nora will always be part of your history. She’ll be part of your family.”

            Evan sighed and kicked off his shoes.

 

They would have used that crib again had Nora lived and had they decided to have another child.

            It was the only argument that could help them make a decision. After dinner, Evan went straight up to the bigger bedroom and started putting it together again. With every turn of every screw, with each piece he secured against the other, he felt the tears rising in his throat. He’d asked Alex not to come along. Not to help him.

            The worst thing was that he didn’t feel like he was betraying Nora.

            The worst thing was that he was looking forward to filling this room with life.

            Nora had never been inside this house.

            Nora had never slept inside this room.

            But this was her bed.

            He pushed away the unopened box of books they’d schlepped from their old house into this one and which would probably remain unopened for the rest of their lives, and secured the last screw.

            Plain, light brown wood. Soft to the touch and yet it looked rustic and beautiful. He let his hand glide over the slight curve of the foot-end and wiped away the tears with the other.  One day he’d tell his child whose bed this had been. One day he’d let them in on the pain and the joy and the way just looking at it took his breath away.

            He’d put this thing together the first time. A few months later he’d taken it apart again with shaking hands and yet he’d been careful not to break anything. Breaking it would have been like tearing apart his own child. This bed had kept his daughter safe for a while. They’d put Nora in there every night. They’d stood over it more often than he could remember, unable to believe their luck. At having her back. At having each other. The two of them, him and Alex, had been all that remained. Well, and that bed.

            Outside he heard a car pass by the house. It must be close to midnight, and so far only his mother had gone to bed. He could still hear Alex and his father talking quietly downstairs. He couldn’t make out the words and he hadn’t paid attention to what they were saying. Slowly, he got to his feet, brushed his hand over the wood again and decided to buy some paint the next day. It was a good compromise, he thought. And maybe, over the course of the next few months, he’d find the time to paint a couple of cheery pictures for the room.

            The things they’d get for Atlantis would have to be shipped there with the Daedalus or the Apollo. There was just no way they could carry two cribs and the massive amounts of baby supplies Anna and Murdoch had asked for, including the stuff they’d decided to bring for Teyla and the stuff they’d need once the time came. There was simply too much to bring and the other two children came first. Teyla had obtained a crib from a trader and maybe they’d do that too. Just get what they could from there.

            Evan turned off the light and made his way down the staircase. His father and Alex were sitting in the living room and when Evan reached the bottom of the stairs, he heard what they were talking about. Really, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

            “You’re not on Earth?”

            Alex was quiet and his heart sank. His father was still at it. He’d hinted at a few things these past few months and Evan just knew that he must have tried contacting some of his old friends. His father hadn’t been in the army, but he had some friends who had been, or still were. So, of course he’d tried. For a moment Evan wondered if he’d been able not to investigate after all the outrageous stories his parents had been told. About where he and Alex had gone missing. About Nora. About what had happened in Germany.

            His father was a historian. He liked digging for information, so, of course he wouldn’t give up when people told him no. Especially not if it concerned his own family.

            “Dad?” He walked into the room. Alex had changed into her pyjamas and was wearing the thick woollen socks her brother had given her for Christmas the previous year. His father was sitting in the chair opposite the couch, still in jeans and the usual brown pullover, holding a glass of wine and he looked up at Evan.

            “You keep telling me not to ask questions, but I don’t really have any more questions to ask.”

            Evan swallowed hard and sat down next to Alex, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her close, careful not to force her to spill the tea she was holding close to his chest. She threw him an almost defeated look and shrugged.

            “Why do you keep pushing us?”

            “I’m not, I’d just like to know whether my grandchild will be born on another planet?”

            Evan sighed. “No, dad,” he lied. They’d come to the point where he had to lie to his father outright. Because he was forcing him to. This couldn’t end well. “What a ridiculous idea, I-“

            “What’s a Goa’uld?” His father was holding his gaze and Evan took care not to blink.

            “I’m sorry, what?”

            “A Goa’uld.”

            His mouth was bone dry and it was all he could do not to blink.

            Alex shifted uncomfortably by his side. “Never heard of that term.”

            “I found something on the internet after the last time you visited. Don’t look so surprised, I’m not ancient. Turns out, there’s this guy who published a couple of stories. They were taken off his official homepage some time ago, but, as the saying goes, the internet doesn’t forget. And it’s right. I found the stories.”

            “Since when are you into fiction?” He’d almost slipped and dropped the term science as well. He recalled exactly the case of a couple of years ago, when General O’Neill was still in charge of the SGC. About the man who had picked up an Ancient communication device and had shared some, if not all of O’Neill’s memories of past missions. He had posted some of those stories on the internet, Evan remembered. And the Air Force had made sure they were deleted. Well, apparently they hadn’t done their job thoroughly enough.

            His father smiled softly and shook his head. “I found the stories by typing in your name, Evan. It appears in one of those stories. So does Alex’s.” The smile slowly but surely vanished and Evan couldn’t move. He knew exactly what mission report the idea for that story must have come from.

            “Dad-“

            “Is that what happened to you? To Nora? Is this what you do?! Is this actually true?!”

            Evan looked down at the coffee table. At the stain which the rim of his father’s wine glass had left on the white wood. He felt Alex sit up straight next to him. She’d tell him, and he felt like a coward for not being able to meet his father’s gaze.

            “David, please, you can’t tell anyone.”

            Closing his eyes, he leaned forward and buried his face in his hands.

            His father gasped and only when he heard the tell-tale hiccup, did Evan manage to look up again. His father was crying. And he’d barely ever seen his father shed tears. It broke his hear to see him like this, but there was nothing he could have done to comfort him. Nothing to say.

            His father’s shoulders were shaking as he sat there, looking at them both, his mouth covered by his hand. His shoulders shaking with silent sobs and Evan’s heart sank. “Dad…” he muttered. “I-“

            “And you want to do this again? You want to-“

            “Dad, you can’t tell mom anything! Please! And I promise you, what ever you think-“ he broke off, closing his eyes to compose himself and telling himself that it was no use lying to his father anymore, “whatever happened is not going to happen again. Where we are is safe. As safe as it can be, I assure you. We’re not in any more danger there than we are here.”

            Shaking his head, his father got up and left the room, leaving Evan and Alex sitting on the couch. He didn’t believe them, or he didn’t want to. Which, Evan couldn’t say.

            Alex patted his knee and got up. She’d always gotten along better with his father than with his mother. “Looks like the cat’s out of the bag, huh?” she said quietly and followed his father into the kitchen.

Chapter Text

2008

 “Jonas, where the hell are you?” Evan’s voice was hoarse from shouting orders and the blood trickling into his eye was making it harder to see.

            “Incoming!” Nabi shouted and Evan took cover behind the pillar just in time to avoid the energy blast. The searing heat left an imprint on his skin and he spared a second to look at the clip in his P-90. He was running low and he only had one spare. “Three at least.”

            Another energy blast and Evan reached for the grenade in his vest pocket. Getting these damn people off their backs was their number one priority. He’d thought he was done dealing with Jaffa weapons fire. He was just about to pull the metal pin and order them all to take cover, when Woeste’s voice echoed towards them from his safe position.

            “He’s down!” Woeste shouted. What the hell?! Why was he still in the corridor?!

            Evan threw a look at Nabi, who nodded. Nabi was on the other side of the intersection and Fisherman was right behind him, reloading his gun. Nabi whirled around and Evan quickly stowed the grenade away again and followed his lead, firing into the darkness ahead and listening to bodies collapsing to the ground. The enemy fire ceased for a moment. Long enough for Woeste to pull Jonas out of the niche and behind friendly lines.

            “Is he dead?” Evan breathed when the two of them were securely back behind cover.    “No, just stunned.”

            Evan nodded and wiped his brow. His hand came away wet with blood. That knife had certainly been thrown with expertise. “We gotta get back to the Jumper.”

            Woeste slung Jonas’ lifeless form over his shoulders and Evan nodded appreciatively. The Jumper was cloaked and about two clicks away. This was going to get rough.

            And suddenly he realized that everything was quiet. There were no more footsteps. No more energy beams being fired at them.

            “This is the only way off this cruiser, right?” Fisherman was on edge. This wasn’t the first mission he’d accompanied Evan’s team on. This time, for the first time, he sounded worried.

            “I doubt it,” Evan hissed. “Come on, let’s go. Do you have the storage device?”

            Fisherman nodded and Nabi looked around the corner to make sure there really wasn’t anyone there. Not that they could see anything beyond the fog and the darkness. Not even the torches on their guns could penetrate that.

            “Okay.”

 

Alex was grateful she didn’t have to be Anna right now. Being pregnant was one thing. Thinking about giving birth something completely different. And it was something Alex didn’t particularly like thinking about. By the looks of it she wouldn’t have to have a C-section, given that Ba’al had healed her well enough. It didn’t mean she was looking forward to it, though.

            Anna had gone into labour about an hour before Evan and his team had set out on a mission to check up on an abandoned Wraith cruiser. Originally Oliver and Rick had been scheduled to go with him, but given Anna’s condition, only Rick had accompanied them. They’d be back in a few hours. But it was clear the planet they’d gone to needed to be thoroughly searched. The Wraith had attacked the Midway Station from there about a week ago. The attack had started about four hours after she and Evan had returned from there and they’d lost Midway shortly after.

            She was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her quarters, trying to distract herself with one of the books she’d brought along, but it was no use. No amount of good writing and no matter how incredibly well thought-out this murder mystery was, Alex couldn’t concentrate.

            Getting to her feet, she wondered what it would feel like not to be able to do this anymore. What it might be like not to be able to function the way she was now. That day was bound to come. Not yet though. She still had several months before she became big again, but still… she wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. The bump was barely visible now and she only hoped it wouldn’t keep her from working the way it had with Anna. But if it did, she’d find a way to be okay with it. This was their last chance of having a baby. She knew it was. There was just no way a miracle like this would happen again.

            And yet, she’d been horrified when Anna had grabbed her arm as they were sitting in the mess hall over breakfast. Oliver had just left for a few minutes to get some more coffee, and somehow Anna’s body had decided it wanted to go into labour there and then. The look on Evan’s face was still edged into Alex’s mind. There’d been a mixture of horror and amazement and he’d jumped up from his chair to fetch Oliver straight away, nearly running him over in the process.

            They’d left shortly afterward. Evan, Nabi, Jim and Jonas, along with Fisherman. Just a simple recon mission, but Alex was well aware how quickly those could turn nasty. She’d been in more than one fire-fight herself, when the mission had supposedly only been about meeting new people or doing research. Not that she was terrified of losing Evan on this particular one, but one never knew. And she hated seeing him go now. Anna going into labour had thrown things into a new perspective, and she’d known, just by looking at him, that he felt the same way. But they’d simply have to learn to live with that. If Anna and Oliver could do it, then so could they. And who knew, maybe she’d be determined not to rejoin a team in a month or two as well.

            She dropped the book on the bed and grabbed her jacket. If she couldn’t concentrate on fiction, then maybe it was high time she started transcribing the interviews she’d conducted with Teyla, Kanan, Halling and other Athosians over a year ago. She’d been meaning to transcribe them early on, but the task had appeared mind-numbing at first, then she’d dreaded re-visiting the stories after the disappearance of Teyla’s people. She dreaded listening to those stories now, but it’d been so long since their people had vanished, and somehow, maybe, the stories they’d told her might very well be the last memories the Athosians would ever share with anyone.

            Tying her hair back in a ponytail, she straightened her glasses and headed for the door to get to work. Teyla’s child would be born in about two months, so it was high time to get this done. Just in case. Even sitting down and listening to those interviews was painful, she wanted to work on that collection for as long as it took Evan to get back, or for as long as it took for Anna’s baby to get here.  Either way, she needed to do something that would keep her mind busy while making it impossible to think for herself.

 

Woeste didn’t trip or stagger once as he ran towards the cloaked Jumper. He was quickly followed by Nabi and Fisherman and as soon as they were all onboard, Evan closed the rear hatch and fired up the engine. Still nobody was firing at them, but he wouldn’t count on things to stay like that. So far they’d gotten lucky and that was it, though he doubted even that to be true.

            As usual the Jumper reacted to the slightest touch and they took off just seconds before the ground it had been standing on exploded, throwing what must be tons of dirt and sand into the air. He felt the shockwave slightly shaking the ship, but they were at a safe distance already. Fisherman sat in the co-pilot seat while Nabi and Woeste tended to Jonas. There wasn’t anything they could do to help anyway.

            “Are we dialling the Gate?” Fisherman asked, pulling up the readings of the sensors around them. Nothing. No energy signatures.

            “Not right now, no,” Evan muttered. It was very likely the Gate would be well-guarded, and by now they knew that Ba’al’s ships had cloaks, too. But then again, nobody had come through the Gate after them, and the initial scan hadn’t shown any signs of either Wraith or humans.

            “Damn it, how did they know we’d be here.”

            “They didn’t,” Evan said, hoping he was right, as he flew close to the treetops to look for a cloud-free area up ahead so they could move up a little higher and get away just in case.  “We would’ve run into them much sooner if they had.” We’d be captured if they had. “I’m almost sure they were just investigating the cruiser.”

            “So, what’s the plan, Major?” Nabi asked.

            “How bad off is Jonas?”

            “Guess he’ll be alright.”

            Evan nodded. There it was. The hole in the cloud cover. He shot straight up and they broke orbit a few seconds after. “We’ll have to wait. I doubt they’ll be hanging around to watch the Gate forever.”

            “Do you think they know we have this thing?” Fisherman reached into his vest pocket and produced the Wraith storage device which they’d taken from the cruiser’s bridge.

            “I guess we’ll see.” If they did, they’d probably wait as long as it took.

            “Did you see the woman who was leading those guys?” Woeste asked, following Nabi into the cockpit. Evan turned around in his seat. They were high above the planet’s surface now, overlooking the swirls of clouds covering up most of the greyish brown below. Jonas was lying on one of the benches, still unconscious by the looks of it.

            He nodded. “Yeah,” he muttered. “We should really talk to Colonel Carter as soon as possible.” And it wasn’t as though they didn’t have enough problems as it was.

 

She’d sat down with about twenty Athosians, had shown them photographs of the paintings in the caves and each and every one of them had told her the story they knew about it. As she’d expected the main ideas of the stories were the same, but they also varied. Nuances here and there changed with every person who told the story. Accompanying some paintings there were songs. Those didn’t change. They remained the same, but Alex was sure, had someone who had lived in another area of Athos sung those songs, the words would have changed as well. It was the way of things. But unfortunately, the Athosians who had come with them to Atlantis were the only ones remaining on that planet. There might be others, other villagers, other tribes, people who had moved away before the final Purge, but Teyla hadn’t known about those.

            Alex hands flew over the keyboard, hitting the pause button every six words. The program automatically rewound a few milliseconds the moment she hit that button. And she listened to that same voice again. It would take her weeks to transcribe all the interviews, but she didn’t mind. At least this way she had something to do.

            A hand on her shoulder made her flinch and she whirled around to see Teyla standing right behind her. Again she pressed the pause button. “Am I interrupting something?”

            “Yeah,” Alex breathed and shook her head straight away. ”But it’s okay. I should probably take a break.” She threw a quick look at her watch. Had she seriously only been at it for two hours? It felt like five.

            “What are you working on?” Teyla sat down next to her. Her bump was so big now she had to sit further away from the table as usual.

            “Uhm…” Alex cleared her throat and brushed her hand through her hair. She’d abandoned the ponytail about half an hour ago. “The interviews I did with your people. I- I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get started, but-“

            “Things have been busy, I understand.” Teyla nodded and for a moment Alex wondered whether Teyla’s eyes were glistening slightly. “I heard about Anna.”
            Alex huffed and nodded. “Yes, I needed the distraction.” She pulled a face. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” Teyla’s people had gone missing about half a year ago. Talking about them like a past-time wasn’t the best way to approach the subject.

            “It’s alright. I believe it’s tedious work.”

            Letting out a long breath, Alex leaned back. “Yes,” she agreed. “How are you doing?”

            “I don’t sleep much.”

            “I get that.” Alex scratched her cheek. Her skin was changing. It was a lot drier than it used to be and for a moment she wondered why it hadn’t been like that last time around. But then again, a lot of things were different now. She was a lot more sensitive to smells, she was sick more often, she was more tired, and now her skin… pregnancy really wasn’t doing her any favours. “I bet it’s hard to find a good position to sleep in by now?” No need to talk about past experiences with a bump so big you needed help tying your own shoes.

            “To say the least.” Teyla cocked her head and looked at her inquisitively. “Are you looking forward to it?”

            Teyla knew. Of course she did. Practically the whole expedition knew by now. Not necessarily about Nora, but about this child. Alex wasn’t going on any more missions and Oliver was looking for a temporary replacement. Alex was barely three months along and already she’d been asked about the baby a million times. She was grateful Teyla was approaching the subject the way she was.

            “Mixed feelings. But overall, yes I am.” She placed both of her hands on her stomach and shrugged. “How about you? Not long now.”

            Teyla smiled vaguely. “I needed a distraction as well. I can’t bear thinking about poor Anna right now.”

            “I agree. Let’s not think about that.”

            “Would you like to get some ice cream?”

            Alex nodded decidedly. “Absolutely.” She closed her laptop and rose to her feet.

 

Two hours later she and Teyla were still sitting in the mess hall, each with a huge bowl of chocolate ice cream in front of them and both of them holding a couple of playing cards.

            “I have never played this game before,” Teyla said, putting four kings down on the table, one of each colour. She’d already put down a row of Clubs, ranging from five to nine, while Alex still hadn’t managed to pull together enough matching cards for her first strike.

            “Yes, the men here prefer Poker,” she muttered as she picked up another card and finally got the fourth Queen she needed to star playing properly. “Anna taught me this game back in Germany. We play every now and again. Join us next time?”

            Teyla nodded, scowling down at her cards before she picked up a new one.

            “When are Sheppard and the rest of your team due back?”

            “This afternoon, I believe.” Ronon had been on Earth when the Midway Station was destroyed. Sheppard and McKay had been on the Station itself and had just barely managed to escape in a Jumper before the Station blew. “Do you think they will build another one?”

            Alex shrugged. “One with a better security system, I hope.” She’d never, not for a second suspected the Wraith would manage to hack the macro which McKay and Carter had come up with. But now, with Ba’al in the picture, it probably wasn’t the safest idea to set up another one straight away. Not until both McKay and Carter were absolutely sure the system was safe.

            Teyla smirked at her over her cards. “That would be preferable, yes. And I hear the interviews with the other senior expedition members have been put on halt?”

            “Seems that way. The IOA committee isn’t exactly looking forward to spending roughly twenty days just to get here and annoy us. And- oh-“ Her mouth was bone dry when she saw Evan entering the mess. He must have just returned. Why hadn’t he tried contacting her?! There was a bandage on his forehead and his hair was still slightly damp from the shower he must have taken, as he hurried over to sit next to her. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Hey, Teyla.”

            “I am- what happened!?” There was always the chance that someone might get injured or even killed during a mission, but the bandage on Evan’s forehead was making her heart miss a beat. When would she ever get used to that?! “Evan-“

            He shook his head. “I’m alright. Just a scratch.” The bandage was right over his eye and by the looks of it, it was a fairly long gash.

            “A big one by the looks of it.” Well, at least he’d been in the infirmary first thing. And he’d already cleaned up.

            Evan nodded and looked at Teyla. “Sorry, how are you doing?”

            “I’m alright, Major.” She pushed her bowl away and looked at them. “I take it the mission wasn’t a success?”

            “Depends,” Evan said, picking up Alex’s spoon and dipping it into her ice cream. “We managed to salvage a Wraith storage device, but the Worshippers were already there.”

            “Wraith Worshippers?” Teyla raised her eyebrows.

            “Yes, the woman who led the village of Worshippers, Ronda, was leading the assault on us. She gave me this,” he pointed at his forehead. “Nasty woman.”

            “No Wraith?” Alex asked suspiciously.

            “No Wraith,” he said. “But they were there in a cloaked ship. We picked up the signature of a hyperspace window opening before they took off. And they were using Jaffa staff weapons.”

            “I can’t believe the Wraith Worshippers would change allegiance like that,” Teyla said.

            “I’m only telling you what happened and what I saw. And what I saw were Zat guns, staff weapons and an invisible ship vanishing into hyperspace.” He sounded angry.

            “Was anyone else hurt?” Alex asked, putting a hand on Evan’s arm.

            He nodded again and dropped the spoon. “Jonas got hit by a stunner, he was out for a while but he’ll be okay. I just came from the infirmary. He’s back in his quarters. Has a bit of a headache by the looks of it.”

 

Alex had no idea how she would have felt holding little Josh Murdoch, had circumstances been different. Carefully she placed the boy in Evan’s arms and squeezed Anna’s hand.

            “He’s gorgeous!” she said for what must be the hundredth time, because, what else were you supposed to say?

            Oliver shrugged. He was sitting next to his wife on the bed, as pale as Anna, but his eyes glowing with pride. “He looks like every kid.”

            “I didn’t know you were that humble,” Evan grinned, stroking the tip of his index finger over the child’s nose. Josh had been asleep when Evan and Alex had arrived and it didn’t look like he was very keen on waking up.

            “I’m not. Just saying.” Oliver got up and reached for the camera which was sitting on the nightstand next to the bed.

            Anna had been  allowed to return to their quarters about a day after the birth. She didn’t look like she’d slept a whole lot, but that didn’t seem to upset her all too much. Not yet anyway. “Suits you,” she said, her eyes trained on Evan. “It really does.”

            “Okay, can I keep him?” Evan was blushing. Alex hadn’t seen him like that in forever. But there it was. The sight of him with a bundle in his arms like that, tugged at her heart almost painfully, but she smiled nonetheless. She couldn’t help herself.

            “Not a chance.” Oliver laughed and gave the camera to Alex. “Would you take a picture of us?”

            “Sure.” Alex turned it on gestured for Evan to hand over the baby again. Josh yawned inaudibly and Anna pulled him close to her chest. She had no eyes for anything but her child. Alex couldn’t exactly blame her.

            Evan by her side stiffened. He reached for the radio and turned away from them. “Go ahead, Colonel.”

            Sheppard or Carter? Alex exchanged a quick glance with Oliver.

            “Understood.” He cleared his throat and turned to face them again. “I gotta go. I’m sorry.”

            “Something wrong?” Alex asked as he stepped forward and kissed her full on the mouth.

            “Teyla needs to go off-world. A lead on her people. My team’s accompanying her.”

            That wasn’t too bad, Alex thought. She nodded and kissed him. “Take care,” she said, forcing down the memory of two days ago, when he’d come home with a gash right over his eye. “Come back.”

            He winked at her and stroked Josh’s cheek. “You watch over my wife, alright?” he smiled and, after a quick goodbye, hurried out of the room.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 55

2008

“When you see a dart, you dodge its beam!” Alex said as the door to their quarters closed behind them. She’d started packing boxes. When? He hadn’t been gone that long? And he wasn’t in the mood to ask. She raised her hand and touched his shoulder, but he couldn’t face her. It wasn’t helping. Nothing was. And she knew it.            

             Evan shook his head and shrugged out of his jacket, dropping her hand along with it. He’d just come from his talk with Sheppard, McKay, Ronon and Carter and their accusative glances were enough to make him throw his jacket on the ground even now. “Fuck!” His heart was still pumping, his thoughts racing. How could he have let this happen?!

             “Evan-“

             “Just-“ he let out a long breath and shook his head. “Don’t.”

             “Tell me what happened. She didn’t duck? What? You did? Tell me.” She wasn’t coming closer. She wasn’t reaching out to touch him again and he was glad that she didn’t. He didn’t think he could bear it right now.

             “I-“ He shook his head and dropped down on the bed, his face buried in his hands. He’d barely managed to look Carter in the eye. But facing her had been easy in comparison. Alex had been in a similar situation on Ba’al’s ship, but at least then he’d had a lead. There wasn’t much of a lead now. Their only one had been taken along with Teyla. “She found a merchant who had something belonging to her people. And then there was that guy he’d bought the things from. We were going to take him in, to follow up on the trail. We were… so close to the Gate.” He closed his eyes. Teyla had just been about to argue that she should come along to the planet where the trader was going to take them. That she should be there when they went looking for the Athosians.  He could still see her face, the determination in her eyes. “And then we heard a Dart. We jumped to the side, but- the guy just grabbed her. Kept her from getting away. And they were picked up by the beam.” He ripped his radio from his ear and threw it on the bed. “I should have known.”

             “You couldn’t have known, Evan,” she said quietly, sitting down next to him.

             “No,” he breathed. He couldn’t believe it. He’d screwed up yet again! Once more he’d failed to protect. The list of names on his conscience would never get shorter. “I should just quit,” he murmured, wiping his face. This wasn’t at all what he thought this job would be like eighteen years ago. He’d known from the very beginning that hurting people, even killing people was part of the deal. That failing to keep harm from someone was part of the deal. But this- this was too much.

             Sam.

             Gray.

             Javier.

             Nora.

             Alex.

             Teyla.

             All those people who wouldn’t have to get hurt, had he done his job right.

             “There was nothing you-“

             “I really don’t want to hear that right now.” He jumped to his feet and picked up the radio again. “And I know I’m saying this now, but to be honest, I’d much rather-“

             “You’d much rather wallow.”

             He whirled around, surprised at the harsh tone in her voice, but not taken aback. She was still sitting on the bed, frowning at him, her eyebrows knit so tightly together they were almost forming one line. Her disapproval, her non-verbal criticism made it hard to back down. “I-“ Evan broke off and shook his head.

             “She’s still out there and you’re not gonna give up!” She rose to her feet and reached for her notebook. Was she seriously going to leave him like this?

             “I- no!”

             “See?” She nodded without smiling and started moving towards the door. “You’ll find her. This whole base will be out there looking for her.”

             “The Athosians have been missing for half a year now.” And there was little to no trace of them. But of course she was right. He wiped his forehead and shrugged. “Sorry, I’m just so angry at myself. I let this happen and-“

             “Fix it, then.” When he looked at her now, as she was standing in the doorway, her notebook in her hands.

 

“Did they find Teyla?” Anna asked the moment Alex showed up at her quarters. Her friend was walking constantly now, because sitting, or, heaven forbid, lying down was unbearable. She’d done enough of that these past few months.

             Alex shook her head and accepted the glass of water Anna handed her. She’d just been to see Evan before his debriefing and the feverish look in his eyes still rattled her. Teyla had gone missing four days ago. Four days during which every waking moment had been dedicated to trying to find Teyla. It wasn’t just that Teyla was one of the most valuable members of the expedition, but people felt like losing her was one of the worst things that had happened. Teyla should have been safe with Major Lorne as they went looking for Teyla’s people.

             Alex knew that everybody was thinking it.

             She knew that Evan was thinking it.

             The fact was that nobody was ever safe. Not on Earth, not in Atlantis. And everybody on this base knew that too.

             “How is he?”

             “He didn’t send a message.” Alex sighed. Sheppard and his team had gone to find their Wraith ally and talked to him. For some reason Sheppard had thought it a great idea to call him Todd. And this Todd had told them about a place where Michael liked to keep prisoners. And this Michael, by the looks of it, had intended to bring Teyla there, but they had arrived too early. They’d found a prisoner, though. Not Teyla, but someone else. Beckett.

             Beckett, who was supposed to be dead.

             Alex hadn’t seen him yet, but according to what she’d heard, it really was him. A copy. A clone. But Beckett in the flesh.

             But Evan hadn’t come back through the Gate. He, Jonas, Oliver, Fisherman and the others on their teams had remained on the Daedalus to keep looking for Michael’s hive and they wouldn’t be back for another couple of days.

             Anna nodded. “No, neither did Oliver.” She reached for the stack of cards sitting on the small coffee table by the sofa and started shuffling the cards. “I guess they didn’t have the time.”

             “Doesn’t help, though.”

             “No.” With a shrug, Anna started distributing the cards. She was worried, too, and, to be fair, Alex had never seen her friend like this before. This was Oliver’s first mission since the birth of their son and Alex remembered all too well what it had been like to watch Evan take off after they got Nora back.

             “They’ll be okay.”

             Anna didn’t answer. They’d thought the same thing would hold true for Teyla. And who could know what Teyla might be going through right now? Anna picked up her own cards and started sorting them. There was no need to talk about which game they’d play. It was always the same. The very same, which Alex had taught to Teyla about a day before she’d gone missing.

             Alex bit her lip and picked up her own stack of cards. “Have you seen him yet?”

             “Who?” Anna frowned at her cards and pulled the coffee table closer. It was much too small, but they could use the sofa just as well.

             “Carson.”

             “No. You?”

             Alex shook her head and started sorting the cards. “I should, though. Tomorrow maybe.”

 

She hated waiting. She’d never been particularly good at it and she dreaded what the coming months held in store for her because of it.

             She spent her days transcribing the interviews, no matter how painful it was to hear the voices she thought she’d never hear again. Listening to them telling stories about times long gone. About legends and heroes and politicians and traitors. Very basic, human stories full of meaning and pain and love and fear. The dull typing helped her blend them all into one giant mass. A week after Teyla’s disappearance she was a quarter of the way through the interviews.

             And then they turned up. Through the Gate, along with Sheppard’s team. They’d found them and it was a big relief. Except that they didn’t bring Teyla, who was still Michael’s prisoner. They only brought home her people.

             Evan, Oliver and the others arrived two days later, but for Alex there was nothing to do but work. Research, transcribe interviews, write reports. Another dull routine, but it distracted her from working. Those were the few useful things she could do.

             She talked to Beckett. Just briefly. There’d been some problem with the cloning process, and Keller had put him into stasis with the promise of reviving him as soon as she found a cure. What they needed, Keller had told her in confivende, was a clone of Ba’al, so she could study him. Obviously Ba’al had found a path that worked.

             And that was what Evan was working on right now together with Keller. He and her were in Carter’s office, talking urgently to her to try and convince her not to order him and his team to solely use their resources for humanitarian aid. With the recent outbreak of a disease which appeared to have been systematically planted by Michael, the expedition was busy trying to contain it as best they could. All other scientific projects had been put on hold, because, obviously, this disease took priority.

             Alex could see Evan gesturing as he stood in front of Carter, but Alex already knew that the chances of Carter allowing him to prioritize the pursuit of Ba’al was less then slim. Keller stood next to him, arms crossed over her chest as she listened and chimed in occasionally.

             Alex hadn’t accompanied them. This whole thing already looked like all they wanted was to find Ba’al and bring him to justice as it was. And it wasn’t as though the thought had ever really left their mind. And she doubted Carter felt any different.

             Chuck got up from his console and moved over to the table on the right, where the technicians kept a coffee maker and some other things that weren’t allowed anywhere near the ten thousand year old consoles. “Want some tea?” he asked and Alex nodded absentmindedly.

             “Thanks.”

             “Don’t tell McKay I walked past the computers though.” He smiled vaguely as he approached her with an enormous mug. The scent of red berries and cinnamon made her return his smile.

             “I won’t,” she promised. “Thank you.” She took a sip and ignored that it was searing hot. Chuck nodded once, patted her shoulder and moved back to his console without pouring himself a mug of tea. Was she seriously looking that bad?

             She scratched her chin and smiled vaguely at Johnson, who was sitting behind Chuck. The young woman with he dark hair returned her smile and kept working. She’d been questioned about Javier’s death as well.

             So far, the investigation hadn’t amounted to anything and Alex doubted it would. Not, at least, until they could spare the time and resources to do it properly. To look at the security footage more than just a dozen times. To ask the same questions over and over again. To find someone with a real motive to kill him. Until then, Alex would choose to believe that Javier’s passing had been due to natural causes, the way Keller suspected. With no trace of poison or trauma, anything else was highly unlikely anyway.

             Evan left Carter’s office and he looked calm enough as he approached Alex, who was still standing near the bridge leading from the control room area to Carter’s office. “Lunch?” They couldn’t very well discuss what he, Keller and Carter had talked about out here. Keller had remained behind to talk about the disease.

             She shook her head. “I guess I should lie down. I’m a little tired.” She put the mug back down on the table. She’d only drunk half of it, but she was still grateful for the warmth it had provided her with.

             “Right. Come on, I’ll walk you.” He waited until they’d been in the transport and had arrived on the South-East Pier, where their new living quarters were located. They’d moved there only the previous day with the help of Evan’s team and Oliver, who had moved there a couple of months ago with Anna. The quarters on that side of the city were bigger than the ones in the central tower, and given their circumstances, it had just appeared the right thing to do.

             They turned right and Evan gently put his arm around her. “She said no,” he said quietly and Alex nodded. She hadn’t really expected anything else. “At least not right now. She said, since Beckett is in stasis, there’s no real need to rush things. And I grudgingly agree.” They’d arrived and he waved his hand over the sensor. “Teyla and that illness are our priority right now.” He didn’t sound too happy though, but also not really surprised. She didn’t complain as he pulled her with him into their new apartment, where boxes upon boxes still took up most of the surface. How had they managed to gather that much stuff? She’d wondered about that for some time now.

             “I just hate that there’s nothing I can do to help.”

             “Yes, I know,” Evan muttered as he sat down on one of the chairs. “But at least we tried.” It wasn’t a big consolation, but as he hugged her middle and pulled her close, she knew he didn’t feel like trying was enough. She brushed a hand through his hair and kissed the top of his head. What else was there to say?

             They’d keep looking.

             They’d keep fighting.

             And for now that was all they could do.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 56

2008

The previous day had been the first one in weeks with a bit of rain. The sky was still grey, but the heat had picked up again. The short respite had been nothing but that: short. Already he could feel the shirt sticking to his skin and it was only ten in the morning.

             Alex was walking next to him as they made their way through the little town. They only wanted to buy some groceries at the weekly market, but he felt like it would be a chore from which they’d need to recover for half the day once they got back to his place. He could already feel the sun doing its best to burn his skin and he wished he’d taken a bottle of water along.

             Had he been flying today, he wouldn’t have minded the heat. The air conditioning inside the cockpit made it almost easy to forget that outside the heat was searing the grass down on the surface. It almost made you forget there were actual people fighting and dying below you. Almost.

             As did being here with Alex. They’d only been going out for about three weeks. Three weeks during which they’d quickly moved from an awkward sexual encounter to what appeared to be an exceptionally real thing. She was holding his hand despite the heat and he liked the feel of her fingers interwoven with his. He’d never been someone who liked handholding, but touching her hand made him feel more grounded. More present and more secure.

             “I really quickly need to go in there,” she said, pointing towards a narrow alley to the right of a fairly busy bakery.

             Evan frowned and looked down the alley. A church? “Okay?” Hadn’t she told him she wasn’t religious? He doubted she’d lied, but she didn’t give a reason for wanting to go, so he just let himself be led by her through the narrow alleyway and towards the tall, pinkish tower with the small roundish windows. His eyes wandered up the tower and he couldn’t help but compare the church to the Roman buildings which stood just a couple of kilometres away in Trier. The concept of the architecture hadn’t really changed these past millennia.

             Only when Alex let go of his hand did he realize she was already through the door. Was she even expecting him to follow? This whole thing was strange to say the least, but she hadn’t asked him to wait outside, so he followed her. She’d tell him what was going on eventually.

             The scent of stale frankincense and candles were strangely welcome. He’d never been much of a fan of mass, but he liked the way churches smelled. He liked how the light caught in the big stained-glass windows and made everything inside the high-ceilinged buildings look eerie and lofty and somehow like a whole other world.

             He stood in the entryway for a moment and, out of habit, because he knew what his grandmother would expect of him, he dipped his hand in the small marble stoup standing to the right of the aisle and crossed himself. Not for the sake of reaffirming a belief he didn’t really have, but because he would’ve felt indecent not doing it. As though his grandmother would know if he didn’t do it. What a silly thought. Alex had moved to the side and over to the rows of candles on the left side of the main ship. A soft clink echoed through the empty church as she donated a coin and reached for one of the candles.

             Evan approached her quietly. When he reached her, she was just lighting her candle on one of the five others already burning there and she placed it on the lowest of the three tiers. For a moment she stood there quietly, her hands folded in front of her and her eyes trained on the candle. She didn’t look sad, or like she was in prayer. More like she was thinking about someone, or something. It wasn’t painful to watch her, but he felt a sudden emptiness inside his chest as she took a deep breath and looked at him again. Her face was clear and he could almost see the trace of a smile on her lips.

             After a few minutes she took his hand again. “My father birthday was on August 5th. He died two months before his birthday.”

             Evan nodded. He squeezed her hand. “Are you okay?”

             “I am now.”

 

“Fix it, then.”

             Those had been Alex’s words. And she wasn’t wrong. The problem was he didn’t know what he should do. There was very little to be done but keep asking their allies, looking for information on Michael’s possible hideouts and ignoring the restlessness during good-will missions.

             And then, five weeks after her disappearance, they finally received the intel they needed. And Teyla didn’t have much time left before she was due. As he followed McKay through the abandoned warehouse, he couldn’t help but think of Larsa. Of how Alex had been in a similar situation as Teyla must be now: dreading to give birth and terrified of losing her child. It was more than likely that Teyla would lose hers. And it was his fault.

             Fix it, then

             But how? This place was empty. Empty except for the Wraith tech and the dust gathering on the floor. McKay was busy looking at a screen, apparently some technology stolen from the Genii and adapted by Michael…

             “Jackpot,” McKay muttered, kneeling down and looking at the data on the screen in front of him. Just seconds before Sheppard had confirmed equipment that looked like it might belong in a maternity ward. Evan’s stomach was nothing but a painful knot.

             “What d’you got?” Sheppard asked over the radio. The Marines they’d taken along were scouring the rest of the premises. His own team had been sent ahead to yet another planet having to deal with the Hoffan Plague. Jonas had protested, so had Woeste, Nabi and Fisherman, but they weren’t needed here. A small strike force containing Sheppard’s team, the Marines and Evan had to be enough.

             But they were too early.

             It wasn’t unlikely their cover was already blown.

             “I got everything! I got Gate addresses, I got subspace communication codes, I’ve even got his research into the hybrid.” He turned around to look at Evan, his face alight with excitement. “He’s history.”

             Evan returned his smile. That information could indeed make up for missing Teyla today. It would make the hunt easier.

             And then the screen went dark.

            

It was clearly visible now. The standard-issue shirts in her normal size didn’t fit anymore. They hadn’t for weeks. She’d switched to two sizes up the previous week and she had to admit, she was starting to like the look of her bump. Especially when Evan held her close. When it was just the two of them and he positioned her in front of the mirror so she could watch him touch her belly. There was nothing erotic about it, but the way he held her, the way his fingertips brushed over her skin, made her feel all tingly in a different way.

             And as she said at the central console in the control room, she had her hand on the very spot he’d touched mere hours ago, as though he could still feel his warmth there. It was nonsense, of course, but it couldn’t be helped. She liked feeling less anxious. She liked feeling like it could all work out, and she’d never, not once even begun to think about that it might have something to do with the letter which Adam had sent her.

             An actual, real letter. The first she’d ever received from him. Usually they stuck to emails and phone calls when she was on Earth. During their last short visit, she’d only left him a voice message, since he hadn’t been available on the phone, and when he hadn’t replied to her email, she’d almost thought he was angry with her for whatever reason.

             But then that letter had arrived with the latest shipment of supplies aboard the Daedalus. A letter and a silver chain with a pendant inside the fold. She wasn’t superstitious, but the fact that he’d sent it to her and the accompanying words, had made her cry. That too happened a lot more these days. It hadn’t really happened during the first pregnancy. But then again, maybe she was just more sensitive to this one.

             “Okay, what do you need?” Johnson asked as she sat down next to her.

             “I- Isn’t Chuck here?” Alex quickly dropped her hand and reached for the necklace instead. She was sure she’d seen the other technician just a few minutes ago.

             “I can help you, too, you know?” She smiled and the crinkles around her small nose somehow accentuated the freckles. “I mean, we pretty much do the same job.”

             Alex nodded. Of course, she was right. “Right, so, I’m looking for an address, but my computer died on me this morning, so…”

             Johnson nodded. “Right.”

             “Well, it’s not exactly an address, but I think I figured out a couple of symbols that address belongs to, so it would be a big help if-“

             The tell-tale sound of the Gate being dialled cut her off. She jumped to her feet. Nobody was due back. Evan had left a couple of hours ago and her heart skipped a beat as Johnson raised the shield. “Incoming traveller.”

             “Who?” And there was Chuck. Where had he been? He stormed forward, his eyes trained on the screen. Johnson might outrank him, but he’d been here longer than anybody else in the control room. His presence shifted authority from the most senior technician to the one with the most experience straight away.

             Alex saw the name of the IDC’s owner appear on the screen and her shoulders relaxed. “It’s Jonas.”

 

He went away all the time.

             In fact, he was gone more often than he was home, and it was okay. When he came home again, things were good for a few days, but then her mother and father stopped talking to each other. Had the shouting which had been the status quo a few years ago been better? Alex wasn’t quite sure.

             She was sitting on her bed, going through old pictures from holidays she’d gone on with her family. Especially the one in the south of France. Why had her dad taken so many pictures then? Barely of Adam, more of her and that friend she’d made on the beach. Alex couldn’t remember his name, but she recalled how much fun it’d been to play with him. She lingered on that picture, looking at the boy with the dark hair, the blue eyes and the incredible imagination. She flipped the photo over, hoping to find a name there. All she could see was a date though. A year.

             1977.

             She put the picture down again and lay down to stare at the ceiling. She should go downstairs. Her father would be leaving again the next morning, and who could say when he’d be back. When he’d come home two weeks ago, he had been sad. About a friend who had died. A friend who wouldn’t be going on this next mission.

             Who could say if he’d be next? That was always a possibility. When she was younger, she hadn’t really thought of it that way, but now she did and it was harder.

             She brushed her hand over her eyes, but before she could pull herself together and get up, there was a soft knock on her door. “Come in!” she shouted and her father came in. He was wearing that black shirt again and the silvery pendant was even more visible now. He always said how he liked having Saint Mary with him whenever he didn’t have to wear Saint Dogtags.

             “Hey, aren’t you coming down?”

             “No, I was going to,” she said and he sat down next to her. He reached for the photos she’d dropped and a smile rushed over his face.

             “I’m sorry we didn’t go this time around.”

             “It’s okay.”

             “Next year. I promise.” He reached up and touched the side of her head. She felt like she was too big for that sort of thing, but she also didn’t push his hand away.

             “Where are you going tomorrow?”

             “To the Falkland Islands.”

             “It’s far, isn’t it?” She’d heard the name on the news and it terrified her to hear her father would be going there next. And he had to go fast. She swallowed hard.

             “Come back.”

             He nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

 

Rick stepped through the Gate first, followed directly by Jonas.  “Where’s the rest of the team?” Carter asked. She’d appeared on the bridge overlooking the departure area, her hands on the railings.

             Jonas was pale, as he returned her gaze. This whole thing with the disease must be reminding him of the Ori Plague on his home planet. But it just made him work even harder. It made him more passionate about wanting to help people. “Back on the planet, we just came back to fetch more supplies.”

             Carter nodded and waved at them to come up. She smiled vaguely at Alex. “They’ll be back soon,” she said reassuringly, guessing what Alex was worried about without even having to try that hard. Well, it wasn’t like Alex was hiding it.

             Taking a deep breath, she sat down again. Missions to fight Wraith were always dangerous. But Michael was different. He was malicious. He hated their expedition, and probably for good reason. The experiments they’d done on the Wraith were unethical to say the least, and they still had little understanding of Wraith culture.

             Back then they’d had even less. Though she saw how vital it might have seemed to conduct these experiments, she still couldn’t forget how much might have been spared them all, had they decided to just leave him alone. What the expedition had been trying to accomplish was borderline genocide, there was just no other way of putting it, and it was probably one of the few things she could never even begin to discuss with Evan. She didn’t dare. Not even now.

             “That’s a nice pendant.”

             Alex blinked. She hadn’t even realized she was still clutching it. As though holding on from something from the past would do any good. “Thanks,” she said, clearing her throat as she sat down next to Johnson again. Rick and Jonas walked past them, both of them throwing her a thin smile. What was it about people trying to make her feel better these days? “My brother sent it to me. It was our dad’s.”

             “What is it? Can I look?”

             Alex slipped the pendant underneath her shirt. “Just some superstitious religious thing.” Her father had left it had home before he went to the Falklands. With their mother. He’d never returned to claim it. And Johnson didn’t have a right to it.

 

The sun had set about an hour ago and Alex was unpacking. Johnson’s search of the database hadn’t yielded any information. Not that Alex was surprised. The last address leading Sheppard and his team, along with Jonas, to the next meeting place, hadn’t been in there either. She’d just needed to check.

             She picked up another box and set it down on the sofa opposite the door leading out on the small balcony.

             She wasn’t tired anymore, not the way she had been the first few weeks of the pregnancy, but she could feel the strain of the last couple of days and weeks. Of worrying about Evan getting caught up in his guilt. There hadn’t been a whole lot for her to tell him, there hadn’t been a word of comfort or encouragement she could give him. She knew he wouldn’t give up, and she didn’t want him to. What she wanted was for him to come back home. To come back safe and sound and with his conscience at ease.

             They hadn’t heard from Sheppard’s team. It didn’t have to mean anything. She knew that.

             But it might.

             And all she could do was wait.

             All she could do was stay busy. Her head was aching, so attempting another go at the interviews was out of the question, as was diving into her research notes. Unpacking was easier, but it didn’t keep her mind occupied. She sat down on the sofa and looked out through the stained-glass window overlooking the ocean as it lay there, dark blue and serene, below her. She only wished she could see beauty in it right now. In the way the ripples of water glinted silver as they threw back the light of the two moons overhead. In the lights of the South East pier shimmering below. In the stars above.

             In all of it she saw Evan. Evan’s sense for beauty.

             Michael had screwed them over before. Several times in fact. What if this new Gate address was another trap. Just another way of getting payback for what they’d done to him?

             The soft chime of the door made her heart skip a beat. She jumped to her feet, fully intent on telling Anna that she wasn’t hungry. That she didn’t want food. And yet she had a gut feeling that it wasn’t Anna. It was too late for a late night visit from her friend. And it wasn’t her.

             “Can I come in?” Jonas asked, his voice deeper than usual and the frown he’d been wearing so often since he’d returned to work with the Tau’ri was back on his face.

             “What is it?”

             Jonas pressed his lips together. “There was an explosion in Michael’s compound,” he said. “A team of combat engineers is on its way.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 56

2008

Listening to McKay’s constant rambling was probably the worst thing about being stuck down here. Well, maybe not the worst thing, but it definitely didn’t make being stuck like this with a fire burning only three metres behind him any more delightful.

He really shouldn’t be moving. He knew he shouldn’t but he’d fallen on something and he shifted slightly just to get the sharp stone out from underneath him. The sharp pain rushing up his right leg made things go dark for a second.

“I hope they come for us soon,” McKay muttered as he sat down a few feet away from him, eyes trained on his tablet.

“Oh, really? You know, I was just starting to enjoy myself.” Though there was air coming in through the gaps in the rubble above them, it wasn’t all that easy to breathe.

“No need to get snarky at me.”

Easy for you to say, Evan thought testily. You don’t have a broken leg. You don’t have your wife back on Atlantis. A wife who’s probably sick with worry and pregnant. “Listen, do you have your medical kit? Guess I could do with some painkillers.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Don’t you need to stay alert or something?” McKay’s eyes were wide as he looked up at Evan. He probably shouldn’t be talking to the guy. Clearly McKay was busy enough worrying himself. “You know… in case Michael and his hybrids show up early?”

Evan scoffed and shook his head. “I thought we agreed there are no bad guys around,” Evan shot back and McKay nodded. “Listen, if you don’t give me anything stronger than that one pill of ibuprofen I have with me, I’m gonna pass out, Doc. That’s a promise.” The dust of the debris was still burning in his eyes. The wound over his brow had opened up again, and it was all he could do to ignore the almost electric shocks of pain shooting through his body every time he moved. He should probably call himself lucky if this was just a broken leg.

McKay nodded, pulled his backpack closer and started rummaging through it. Within seconds, McKay had produced the syringe and handed it to Evan. “Are you sure?” It was the first time McKay sounded really worried, and the first time since the building had collapsed around them, he looked at Evan.

Evan had stationed one of the Marines at the entryway to the building, and with any luck he’d be back soon enough with a team of combat engineers. He’d get back to Alex. He had to. “I’m okay,” he breathed as he jammed the needle through his uniform and into his skin. “Had worse.”

“Really? You’ve been stuck in rubble with a broken leg and a physicist, while Wraith were about to swarm in on you?”

Evan leaned his head back against a piece of rubble. “No,” he said, closing his eyes and deciding that it was better to feel the heat from the fire than the chill from the dampness and the cold night creeping up his spine like it had back then. That night in the forest on Larsa had been so cold. So unreal. And yet, it’d been the moment he finally realized that there was no other woman for him than her. “I’ve been stuck in a forest with a broken leg, an archaeologist, while Jaffa were looking for us.”

McKay stared at him, open-mouthed, tablet still in his hand. “Funny,” he said with a shrug and returned to his work on the Wraith tech he’d salvaged.

 

He’d cut himself. For what must be the fifth time that day. And there was no plaster to be had. No antibiotics, should he get blood poisoning. And still he didn’t quit. He couldn’t.

             Alex had started helping out next door and this was the only way he could contribute to their livelihood. He put his finger in his mouth and shifted slightly to open the window a little bit further. There was no glass separating him from the outside world, but he kind of liked the soft breeze streaming in through the window. And the light, of course. It made the small hovel look almost friendly and homelike. A dead couples’ house. Being here still felt wrong. Even after about a week of being stuck here.

             Maybe he should have asked her to help him outside. Maybe. But that would’ve meant being stationary for as long as it took her to get back. Moving on his own was still pretty much out of the question, and he doubted he’d get better these next few weeks. Just stretching to open the window had been painful to say the least.

             He put the bleeding thumb into his mouth, hoping to clear the wound the best way he could like this. Then he picked up the clean towel which was lying to his right and wrapped it around his finger. It’d stop bleeding soon enough, and waiting was all he could do anyway.

             The rake didn’t have to be ready until the next day, but he’d promised their neighbour to get it done as quickly as possible. Well, he couldn’t very well whittle with a bleeding thumb, could he?

             He put the knife down on the table and looked outside. At the chickens in the narrow alley. The chickens, which now were theirs. He still couldn’t quite believe it. In all his life, he’d never pictured himself as a farmer. He still couldn’t. And he wouldn’t be.

Though, despite his insistence that the SGC had given up on them, he still couldn’t quite believe they wouldn’t even give contacting them again a try. He just couldn’t believe that.

 

“What if they show up first?”

             “Who d’you mean they.” Evan didn’t even know why he was asking. He sure as hell didn’t want to hear the answer. But it was nice to hear somebody talking. To hear a human voice. Even if it was McKay. And he should be grateful Alex wasn’t here with him. He just wanted to be with Alex. This mission had been yet another failure. Teyla was still Michael’s prisoner, after all. But Alex had no business being here. Not with not only her life on the line.

             “You know,” McKay began, continuing with his train of thought without a second’s hesitation. “Michael, the Wraith, Michael’s hybrids, his followers, Worshippers, take your pick.”

             “I really can’t think like that right now,” Evan huffed. He forced his eyes open. The medication was already making his brain sluggish and he had no interest in falling asleep now.

             “Ba’al.”

             “McKay!”

             “Just saying, it’s not impossible.”

             “Rodney, my wife is pregnant, she’s probably sick with worry and I really can’t afford to think of those possibilities right now!”

             That shut him up. At least for a second. “Really?” McKay sounded surprised. How had McKay missed that?! “I mean-“

             “Yeah, so d’you mind if I don’t want to think about dozens of Wraith swarming in on us to invite us for dinner or something?”

             “Uh- sure.” McKay cleared his throat and shook his head. “Uhm… congratulations?”

             Evan nodded, his eyes shut tight as a bit more of dust fell down from the half collapsed ceiling and onto his leg. Just a bit of extra pressure which almost made him forget that he’d taken the pain killers.

             “Is that why she’s not gone on a mission in weeks?”

             “Yes, that’s why. You’re quick to catch on.”

             “If you don’t mind, I was fairly busy with everything else going on, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

             With a shrug, Evan opened his eyes again and nodded. “I noticed. Sorry.”

McKay huffed. “Fine.” As though he really needed to accept the apology. As though it was a sign of grace on his part. As though all Evan could hope for was McKay’s forgiveness. He probably didn’t even realize it.

McKay sighed once more, then returned his attention back to his tablet and the work he was doing.

“Are you seriously still going through that stuff?”

“Trying to catch up with our friend.”

“Hope it pays off,” Evan breathed, and wiped his brow. It was getting seriously hot down here, which wasn’t surprising, given that the fire was still burning merrily from the pipe behind him and that there were two people in this little hole, breathing and talking and giving off body heat.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

             Evan shook his head. “Never said I was.” He threw a look over his shoulder at the damaged pipe. Gas. That was the thing burning like crazy. He had to admit though that he was grateful for the fire at least, because somewhere above McKay there was a narrow hole through which not only light, but also oxygen could find its way down here. And fire meant that all the lethal gas coming out of the pipe was burned up before it could poison them. Still, it was getting more and more uncomfortable down here by the minute. “Keep talking, okay? Something cheery?” Keep me awake and halfway sane.

 

He wasn’t sure he’d slept at all these past few nights. He wasn’t sure he hadn’t lost his mind either.

             He sat at one of the tables in the cafeteria, going over old mission files. He had to learn quickly if he wanted to be a valuable asset to his new team. But his mind kept drifting off, the way it usually did November twenty-second.

             Four times her birthday had come around and he h